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New Choices for Flu Vaccines

High-Dose Vaccines

Seniors have a weaker response to vaccines than children and younger adults. Last year, for example, the traditional flu vaccine was about 65% effective in children, but only about 27% effective in people 65 and older, according to the CDC.

Studies have shown that giving higher doses may more effectively rouse an older immune system, so companies have begun to offer new high-dose flu shots. It’s a bid to improve protection for the elderly, who can catch the flu more easily and also tend to face the worst of its complications.

The high-dose flu shot contains four times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot. It has been FDA-approved since 2009, but it’s not clear if the high-dose vaccine really offers more protection.

Sanofi Pasteur, maker of the high-dose vaccine, says early results of a clinical trial show that the higher dose does work better than the traditional vaccine.

Medicare covers the high-dose flu shot as well as other kinds of flu vaccines. Before insurance, the cost is $50 at Target pharmacy, about twice as much as the standard flu shot.

Egg-Free Vaccines

Most flu vaccines are made from eggs, so doctors have tended to caution those who are very allergic to eggs to steer clear.

But this year there's a new kind of vaccine that's not grown in eggs, so it can be safely taken by people who are very sensitive. "Now they have no excuse," Chen says.

Unfortunately, the egg-free vaccine is only approved for adults ages 18 to 49.

"The good news for parents is that for children who have egg allergies, unless they have severe reactions to eggs, they can be immunized with the currently available vaccines without any concerns or difficulties," Brady says.

Unless your child has anaphylaxis, which can stop breathing, most kids who are sensitive to eggs -- they itch or break out in hives, for example -- do just fine with the tiny amount found in vaccines, Brady says.

Vaccines Given With Smaller Needles

New intradermal flu vaccines go into the top layer of skin instead of the muscle, which means the needle can be 90% smaller than the kind used for a standard injection.

This is a good choice if needles make you queasy or you can't stomach the brief aftertaste of the nasal spray.

Like the egg-free vaccines, this one seems like it would be ideal for babies and kids, but it's approved only for adults 18 to 64.

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