Archive for January, 2010

This is National Influenza Vaccination Week

Monday, January 11th, 2010

The CDC issued the following press release urging people to get immunized this week.

“The week of January 10-16 marks this flu season’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national observance established to highlight the importance of ongoing influenza vaccination beyond the fall. Providers are encouraged to continue vaccinating high risk persons with the seasonal vaccine and to expand 2009 H1N1 vaccination to anyone who wants it, regardless of age. Because supply and availability of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine have increased dramatically, CDC is now encouraging people who have been patiently waiting to receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine to get vaccinated as well as continuing to encourage unvaccinated people in priority groups to get vaccinated. Activities during the upcoming week will enhance public awareness about ongoing influenza vaccination efforts. Influenza is unpredictable, but influenza is expected to continue for months, caused by either 2009 H1N1 viruses or regular seasonal influenza viruses.”

People sometimes think that there is a point in the influenza season at which it is too late or not worth being immunized. That is not true. The influenza season can be long, lasting until April or longer. We continue to immunize susceptible people until April each year or until our vaccine is gone. Remember that influenza immunizations are cumulative. A vaccine that you take late in the season may not be needed that year, but it may protect you the next year, or ten years from now.

This week’s CDC influenza update says that H1N1 influenza is still showing up all over the US, Europe, and Central and East Asia. Although the rates are lower than their peak in October, the epidemic is sustaining itself, so you can still get H1N1 influenza almost anywhere in the world. If you have not received your H1N1 vaccine yet, you should get it before the manufacturers stop making it and the supply runs out.

A special flu vaccine for the elderly

Monday, January 4th, 2010

We have known for many years that people over the age of 60 or 65 do not respond to immunizations as well as younger people. We can measure the response and function of their immune system and look at the failure rate of immunization (people who were immunized and still got influenza) in that population, and by both measures, the effectiveness of immunization declines with age after a certain point.

For years, we just accepted this as a fact that we could not help. The elderly die of influenza; they always did and they always will, right?

Not so fast. The problem with vaccine studies in the elderly is that they use the same vaccine dose in all patients of all ages. An 80 year old gets the same dose as a 10 year old patient. New data show that the elderly will respond adequately to vaccines, but you have to use a higher dose. A vaccine at 2 to 4 times the normal dose will give the same amount of protection to an elderly person as the normal dose to a young person.

A pharmaceutical company finally took advantage of this information and came out with a high-dose influenza vaccine for people 65 and older. It contains exactly the same ingredients as the normal dose, but in four times higher concentration, and it produces the same protection in the elderly as a normal dose does in a young person. The FDA approved this product on December 23, 2009. The product will be made in 2010 and available for the 2010 influenza season.

Every patient is different, and the response of each individual to a vaccine is different. Influenza vaccine does not protect 100% of the people who take it, but this new vaccine should raise the effectiveness of the vaccine in the elderly up to about the same as in the younger population. If a significant number of elderly people take this vaccine next year, it will be interesting to see if it makes a difference.