Now’s the time: Why clearer recommendations are needed for flu vaccines


Now’s the time: Why clearer recommendations are needed for flu vaccines

Brandpoint (BPT)

(BPT) – By Michael Greenberg, MD, MPH, Vice President and North America Medical Head of Vaccines at Sanofi

Public health agencies have one objective above all others — keeping people healthy. Vaccines are the greatest example of a public health tool with profound impact on reducing illness and death from infectious diseases, like seasonal flu.

Every year, all eligible Americans are encouraged to get vaccinated against seasonal flu to prevent millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits. For those at higher risk of severe flu-related complications, like older adults, the message to get a flu vaccine is even more pressing.

But what if there was a flu vaccine with proven effectiveness at protecting this vulnerable population? Shouldn’t we ensure older adults are getting this vaccine? This month, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is evaluating data so that it can provide clearer guidance for flu vaccines for these populations.

As it stands, the flu vaccine recommendations do not distinguish between flu vaccines available for adults 65 years and older. The recommendations just state that everyone eligible should get their shot. However, there is one flu vaccine available that is specifically formulated for older adults that includes more antigen to stimulate stronger immune response, making it a true high-dose vaccine. With more antigen — the part that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses — this flu vaccine may provide better protection against flu than standard dose vaccines, which are generally administered in populations under 65.

Flu prevention in the form of a high-dose vaccine is important for older adults because they suffer the greatest burden from seasonal flu. Older adults represent the majority of flu-related hospitalizations and account for six times the number of deaths from flu-related complications compared to all other age groups combined. Older adults are particularly at risk of cardiovascular and respiratory complications. There is a 10x increased risk of heart attack during the week after influenza detection and an 8x increased risk of stroke in the days following an influenza infection.

To help reduce this burden, we need to give older adults better protection and to specifically recommend the only available and approved high-dose vaccine versus a standard dose for the over 65 population. In fact, a study published in NEJM showed that this high-dose vaccine was 24% more effective in preventing flu in adults over age 65 compared with a standard-dose vaccine. A separate study published in the Lancet found that adults over 65 who received that same high-dose vaccine had a lower risk of hospital admission versus adults over 65 who received a standard-dose vaccine, especially those living in long-term care facilities.

Older adults know the importance of flu vaccines — adults over 65 get vaccinated at higher rates than the rest of the population — but they may not be aware which flu vaccine is best for their body and why. Patients look to their doctors and pharmacists to have their best interests in mind, but doctors and pharmacists look to guidance from public health authorities to make the best decisions based on the available science. Why not help ensure the best possible health conditions for older adults during flu season by designating a priority flu vaccine in this population?

The time to make a change is now. For over 10 years flu vaccine guidance hasn’t changed, but this month, there’s an opportunity to continue the conversation and make meaningful recommendations to impact communities most at risk. ACIP should recommend the priority high-dose flu vaccine for older adults to avoid exacerbating the burden of flu on the individuals who suffer most each year.

Michael Greenberg, MD, MPH is Vice President and North America Medical Head of Vaccines at Sanofi. With nearly 30 years of experience in medicine, Dr. Greenberg is an experienced medical adviser who wants to spread awareness of the importance of vaccination in protecting public health.