Uneven Availability of High Dose Flu-Fighting Vaccines For Older Folks Poses a Quandry: Wait or Not? Ask a Doc

There was line of customers at the Giant Pharmacy in Maryland and when the 67-year-old asked for the “high dose” flu shot specifically for the older age group, he got a polite reply, with a smile: “Sorry we’re not going to have that for a week or two. Check back.”

For people seeking the higher dose vaccine specifically for people aged 65 or older, pharmacies may not have it available in all cases because of what pharmacists are calling delays from vaccine manufacturers. The higher dose contains four times as much flu virus antigen as other vaccines and is designed to strenghten an older person’s immune system in the face of the flu, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Due to a manufacturer delay of senior dose flu vaccine this season, some CVS Pharmacy locations have a limited supply,” CVS spokeswoman Christine K. Cramer told HealthDataBuzz today. “We are working with suppliers to get additional doses of senior dose vaccine to our stores as soon as possible.”

Other news outlets across the country also have reported sporatic vaccine shortages for older people not only at CVS, but other pharmacies as well, including Walgreens and Payless.

Because of the shortages, senior patients are “encouraged to call their local pharmacy in advance to confirm availability,” Cramer said.

The flu shot is definitely a life saver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Its Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report notes vaccinations in the long “influenza season” in 2017-2018 is estimated to have prevented 7.1 million illnesses, 3.7 million medical visits, 109,000 hospitalizations and 8,000 deaths. That’s despite the fact the overall vaccine effectiveness was registered at 38 percent.

For some seniors, they may be confused what they should do. While the “regular” flu shot – the quadrivalent QIV) – is, as Cramer said, “widely available across all of our pharmacies” it’s obvious the vaccine specifically for seniors is not.

Although the special vaccination has been marketed for seniors, Cramer noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices “has not expressed a preference for any specific flu vaccine indicated for people 65 and older.”

“CDC recommends a flu vaccination as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu and there is no preferential recommendation made for any flu vaccine formulation for this age group,” she added.

While seniors definitely should get a flu shot, they may feel in a quandry if they are in an area where there are shortages: should I wait for the more “powerful” vaccine, if you will, even if it takes another week or so, or not take a chance, and take a flu shot now?

The CDC didn’t respond to my question yet. Cramer quickly did.

“We’d recommend they talk to their physician,” she said.

Then again, in its study the CDC talks about when people should get the vaccine.

“Balancing considerations regarding the unpredictability of timing of onset of the influenza season and concerns that immunity might wane over the course of a season, it is recommended that vaccination should be offered by the end of October.” — Joe Cantlupe, HealthDataBuzz

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— Joe Cantlupe, HealthDataBuzz

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