What The World Has Learned About Vaccines
Now more than ever, people worldwide have an even greater understanding of the importance of vaccines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more aware of their need, how they are made and their role in preventing different diseases. They’re also now aware of one other truth: not all vaccines are the same. This is a result of studies showing that certain vaccines have proven to be more effective in lowering the risk of COVID-related hospitalization, severe complications, and death, than others.
This also holds true for influenza vaccines. However, the current recommendations on influenza vaccine practices do not provide clear enough guidance or differentiation of vaccines that have shown proven effectiveness across clinical studies to support better outcomes for adults who are 65 and older.
Looking at the Influenza Vaccine
Vaccine manufacturers have researched and developed vaccines to help protect the public from the seasonal flu and its most severe complications for decades. Between 2010 and 2020, the CDC estimates that in the U.S. the flu caused up to 41 million cases, 710,000 hospitalizations and 52,000 deaths, and it has proven to be especially dangerous for older adults, with up to 70% of hospitalizations occurring for people aged 65+.
There are many vaccines manufactured to help protect people against seasonal flu. However, one vaccine, known as high dose, was specifically created for people 65 years and older who are at the highest risk for flu-related complications and includes four times the amount of antigen compared to a standard dose influenza 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.
Despite all of this, flu vaccine recommendations do not distinguish between flu vaccines available for adults 65 years and older. We know that influenza disproportionately impacts people 65 years and older, especially older adults from minority communities and those with co-morbidities such as diabetes, asthma, COPD and heart disease. These populations should receive better protection against influenza than current flu vaccine recommendations provide, but there have not been clear flu vaccine recommendations made to protect them. Many Americans receive their annual flu shot with little knowledge of its effectiveness, its results or even the name of the vaccine they are receiving.
What Can Be Done
The need for clear recommendations from trusted experts is urgent – especially to help older adults who are most at risk of severe complications from the flu. While any vaccine can provide more protection than no vaccine, the high-dose flu vaccine is shown to be 24% more effective in preventing flu in adults over age 65 compared with a standard-dose vaccine. That same high-dose vaccine had a lower risk of hospital admission compared to a standard-dose vaccine for people over 65, especially those living in long-term care facilities.
And we need to act now.
Next flu season will be here before we know it. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is a committee within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meets regularly to discuss these matters. It’s essential that the group brings meaningful change to existing guidance and takes action to provide clear and differentiated recommendations for flu vaccines so that we can help to best protect American lives.