Halvorsen Gatlin: Some choices about the flu

Until I began home-schooling my youngest children, the change from summer to autumn signaled the time between the end of vacation season and the time to ready those of my five who were heading into another school year. After they were all grown, the approaching of a new school year was something I hardly thought about.

But the old saw, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” still came into play. I don’t shop for school clothes and supplies now, but there’s another annual signpost that keeps me on the ball in another area each year — various prompts reminding us empty nesters that we still have someone to take care of — ourselves.

Reporting for a doctor appointment recently, I couldn’t have missed the reminders throughout the facility that it was time to get this year’s flu shot.

Always thankful for anything that can help me stay well, I was delighted that I was able to get a “two-fer” that day. Actually, because I’d also called for a prescription refill, which was ready when I arrived there, it was actually a “three-fer.”

I really felt efficient. It was early afternoon and already a good day.

GET ALL THE FACTS

Not only is it important to me to get my flu shot each year, I always want to know what strains of flu that year’s vaccine is aimed for. Now, I would think that the purple “Vaccine Information Sheet” handed to me immediately after I receive my shot would include that information. But such has never been the case, and every year when I ask for it, the person who just vaccinated looks at bit dumbfounded.

And because I was given a choice between two different flu shots this year, my practice of asking for it was hugely reinforced.

Folks 65 and older can choose either the “FluZone High-Dose” vaccine or the “standard-dose” flu shot.

The “FluZone High Dose” includes a “higher dose of an important ingredient, called an antigen, which is part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibodies,” a paper I received in response to my request says, adding that it has “four times the amount of antigen contained in regular flu vaccines.”

The higher dose of the antigen is “intended to give older people better protection against the flu,” it continues. “However, research studies show that the high-dose vaccine was only slightly more effective in preventing flu in adults aged 65 years and older when compared to a standard flu vaccine.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE

The high-dose vaccine contains antigens made from three “inactivated” (not live) strains of flu viruses thought to be most common for the current flu season,” the information sheet continues. But the other flu vaccine “contains four of these inactivated strains.”

The good news for both is that because there is no live flu virus in either shot, they cannot cause the flu. So in that area, both are equal.

But studies have shown that the high-dose vaccine is “only slightly more effective in preventing flu” in people 65 and older. Moreover, the “standard dose” vaccine this year offers possible protection for a strain that the high dose doesn’t.

It’s a personal choice, but requesting the facts changed the decision I’d made before receiving that information. For one thing, I don’t recall being told until I asked that the standard-dose addressed one more flu strain than the high-dose vaccine, nor was I told that even though the high dose had all that extra antigen, it’s been shown that the high-dose was only slightly more effective for my age group.

It wasn’t difficult for me to rethink my choice, though it might not what’s best for other folks. And it might even not work as well as vaccine I didn’t choose. But I’m comfortable with my choice — and very glad that I asked for the all the facts.

I’m not going to muddy the waters for anyone else by identifying what my choice was. My main point is to address the idea that we always should be given all the facts before we’re asked to make that choice. It was yet another lesson in following through with what we’ve had a chance to consider — and believe is likely the best for us.

I refuse to be tempted to settle for less during any future flu season. That’s my choice.

To reach columnist Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin, send an email to rhoda1946@yahoo.com.

 

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