High Potency vs. Regular Flu Shot

Our pharmacist Carolyn Whiskin just returned from the American College of Rheumatology meeting in Chicago. This is the largest meeting in the world of specialists in Rheumatology, over 16,000 rheumatologists and allied health professionals attended this meeting.  The newest research was presented and it is very promising in regards to new treatments for every type of arthritis. Over the next few weeks, we will highlight some of Carolyn’s top picks from the conference.
In the area of vaccination, leading expert, Dr. Kevin Winthrop from Oregon, shared his thoughts on the high potency flu shot being offered to those over 65 this year.  A study done at McGill University in Montreal, showed that people with autoimmune disease under the age of 65,  also had a greater response to the high potency flu shot.  This high potency flu vaccine is only free to those over 65, so those with autoimmune diseases who are younger would have to pay or use private insurance if they wish this vaccine.
There is however more to this story…
The high potency vaccine protects against three strains of flu virus whereas the regular potency vaccine protects against four strains of the flu virus.  Last year over 50% of the flu cases were from a strain that isn’t included in the high potency vaccine at all but is in the regular potency vaccine with the four strains.  So we have a dilemma, do we give the higher potency vaccine to our senior patients and those who are immunocompromised, to get better protection for three types of flu, or do we get a little less protection for those three strains but get some protection from a fourth strain that was dominant last year?
Dr. Winthrop’s expert opinion is to give the regular vaccine to everyone for protection from the four types of flu.  It truly is a judgement call as we don’t have a “crystal ball” to know which strains will definitely hit our area this season.
As the high potency flu vaccine seems to be in short supply in physician’s offices, this information does give us confidence that getting the regular potency vaccine is still very valuable for everyone.

Carolyn Whiskin is the Pharmacy Manager for Charlton Health.  Carolyn specializes in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, pharmaceutical compounding, women’s health, pain and smoking cessation. Carolyn has won provincial and national awards for her commitment to patient care and public service.

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