Vt. Health Officials Encourage Flu Shots, Though High-Dose Version May Be Harder To Get

Nov 6, 2019

It's flu season, and health officials encourage nearly everyone six months and older to get a flu shot.

Christine Finley, the immunization program manager with the Vermont Department of Health, said the good news is there is no shortage of regular vaccines this year — however a high-dose version, for those over age 65, has been a bit harder to get.

"There's two different vaccines that are only for those 65 years and older," said Finley.

One of those vaccines is Fluzone High-Dose, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes "contains four times the antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) of standard-dose inactivated influenza vaccines."

Finley said manufacturing of Fluzone High-Dose was set back several weeks, which caused delays in delivery to some providers.

More from the Vermont Department of Health — "Preventing The Flu"

Making the yearly flu vaccine is complicated: Influenza mutates rapidly, and each of the three or four strains delivered in the vaccine needs to be carefully evaluated. Finley said this past year, manufacturing was held up when the World Health Organization delayed deciding which flu strains to use in this year's vaccines.

Finley said manufacturers have told her they are just about caught up, but she said a concerned physician in Vermont reached out about this just last week. 

According to Finley, if an older patient comes in and there isn't a high-dose vaccine available, then the department does encourage a regular-strength flu shot be administered in that case.

The main thing is to get vaccinated, Finley said, adding it's especially important for people who have pre-existing conditions like heart disease, asthma or diabetes.

More from NPR — "Get Your Flu Shot Now, Doctors Advise, Especially If You're Pregnant" [Oct. 21]

Finley said that while vaccination rates had been dropping the last several years, statistics she provided informed by national data indicate that's turning around and more Vermonters are being proactive.

"Last year we saw significant increases in both young and older adults who got the flu shot," Finley said.

She said that more than two-thirds of those 65 and over got flu shots last year in Vermont, and the number of those getting flu shots among the 18-to-64 age group increased as well. However, Finley noted overall it was still only 44% of that younger 18-to-64 age group who got the shot.

"A lot of mid-life adults are thinking 'I'm not really at risk,' but yet they're caring for children and often times they're caring for older parents," Finley said, "and so there's lots of risk for transmission if they were to get sick."

Correction 1:30 p.m. 11/7/2019  An earlier version of this story misstated Christine Finley's title.