High-Dose Flu Vaccines Hard To Find, But Conn. Health Officials Warn Seniors Not To Wait | Connecticut Public Radio

High-Dose Flu Vaccines Hard To Find, But Conn. Health Officials Warn Seniors Not To Wait

Nov 12, 2019

Patricia Banach just wanted her annual flu shot.

As the weather got colder, she and her husband, both in their 70s, knew that the chances of falling ill were higher, so they set out to a local pharmacy near their home in Somers to get vaccinated.

But it didn’t turn out to be that simple.

“When we got to the pharmacy, there was a sign on the door, and they said, ‘We’re out of the 65-plus flu shot,’” she said. “We called another pharmacy, and they said they also didn’t have it.”

The state Department of Public Health confirmed that some Connecticut residents may experience pockets of shortages of specialized vaccines like the high-dose shot, which is designed for seniors.

But as flu season escalates, people should get some type of vaccine rather than wait for a specialty version, according to Mick Bolduc, DPH epidemiologist and vaccine coordinator.

“Since we are in the middle of November ... we are starting to see flu ramp up in the state, and it is important for them to receive a vaccine now,” he said.

State data show that flu activity so far has been sporadic, with just over 100 confirmed cases. About 43 people, including senior adults, have been hospitalized for the flu.

The high-dose Fluzone vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur is for people 65 years and older, a population at risk for serious flu-related complications. The vaccine contains four times the amount of antigens, or immune response.

That’s why Banach spent time calling local pharmacies and DPH to track it down.

“When we found out what pharmacy had it, we called them right away to make sure they really had it,” she said. “And they said they had some, but come right over because they didn’t know how long it would last.”

Sanofi representatives said in a written statement that there are no national shortages of the high-dose vaccine, but a delay in virus strain selection this year held up production and shipping schedules. The company estimates it will deliver 70 million doses of the vaccine nationwide -- about 75 percent has been distributed, representatives said.

If people are intent on getting a high-dose vaccine, Bolduc said they should continue calling their physician or pharmacy about supply, or call other pharmacies in nearby towns. 

While the vaccine has been promising for older adults, Bolduc said there is no directive from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says seniors can receive only the high-dose shot.

“They can get any of the licensed flu vaccines out there on the market,” he said.

Other vulnerable populations include young children, so Bolduc said that if parents can’t find flu shots for their children at local health provider offices, they should contact the state immunization program to help them locate available vaccines.