Q. I am a caregiver for my 88 year old mother who is two years post-stroke and is extremely frail. We are approaching the flu season and I have read that there is a new and improved vaccine that was developed especially for seniors. The problem, however, is that I am suspicious of drug company claims and I am especially concerned about unintended and potentially dangerous side effects, which for elders like my mom, can have devastating consequences. Is being vaccinated for a super flu vaccine worth the risk?
A. It’s flu season and much is being made in the media today about the effectiveness of flu vaccines. Vaccines have always been controversial. The decision whether to vaccinate or not means one is forced to choose between getting your Super-Flue vaccine and the possible adverse effects it can cause or gamble on getting the flu which can be life-threatening for elders. Either way, if you are a senior, or a caretaker, the choice you make whether or not to vaccinate should be an informed one.
Seniors At Substantial Risk
One of the highest-risk groups for complications from the flu are persons over the age of 65. In fact, seniors account for 50-60 percent of hospitalizations that occur as a result of the flu and nearly 90 percent of all flu-related deaths in the United States.
In the beginning of 2010, a high dose vaccine was approved by the FDA called Fluzone High Dose. Fluzone High Dose was specially developed for seniors over the age of 65. According to the drug company experts, the 2014-2015 flu season has influenza vaccines available which some drug companies claim protect elders against the influenza “A” and influenza “B” virus. These vaccines however have their risks and downsides. The first downside is cost. The super flue vaccine is twice the price of the standard dose vaccine and while some drug companies claim the higher dose vaccine offers twice the protection against the flu, there may also be a higher incident of serious adverse effects from them.
Possible Adverse Effects of Flu Shots
Both the swine flu (H1N1) vaccine and the more traditional flu shot have been associated with causing the following types of side effects: Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), severe allergic reaction, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), acute brachial neuritis and disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Other less severe conditions include elder complaints of redness, pain and swelling at the injection site, muscle aches, fever and malaise, all of which were reported to subside in less then a week.
A growing number of highly respected physicians, however, state that the high dose flu vaccines being promoted may in fact not be as safe as drug companies claim. If this is true, and the high dose flu vaccines are not as effective or safe as claimed, then why would one, especially an elder, risk the increased risk of getting an adverse effect? Some physicians go as far as claiming these high dose flu vaccines have little-to-no scientific evidence that a higher dose of the antibody result in decreased flu and health complications. In fact, some medical studies suggest that the vaccine is ineffective for all age groups, not just for seniors. Further, the number of adverse effects after vaccination is higher than those of other lower dose vaccinations. To compare the clinical efficacy of high dose flue vaccines to that of normal-dose flu vaccines in elderly adults, you can review the following clinical trial study.
Finally, if you or a loved one has suffered a serious illness as a result of a vaccine you should know there are laws and remedies that protect consumers from dangerous vaccines and their side effects. In fact, compensation may be available through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. This is a no-fault system that was created to provide compensation for any person who is injured by a vaccine. Under this program, you will be provided with compensation if you suffer one of their recognized side effects within their specified amount of time after being vaccinated and the government will usually pay the attorney fees should you bring such a case under the programs requirements.