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Study: High-dose flu shot better protects seniors

ATLANTA — A new high-dose flu vaccine for seniors works better than the standard shot in that age group, according to a long-awaited study by the vaccine’s manufacturer.

Experts say regular flu shots tend to be only about 30 to 40 percent effective in people 65 and older, who generally have weaker immune systems. Sanofi Pasteur’s Fluzone High-Dose vaccine boosted that to 50 percent.

The results could mean fewer illnesses — and, hopefully, hospitalizations and deaths — in seniors. For other ages, effectiveness can run 60 percent or higher for the regular vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration licensed the higher-dose Sanofi vaccine in late 2009, based on a study that showed it led to higher levels of flu-fighting antibodies in seniors a month after vaccination. The new study is the first to measure how much protection it actually provides against the flu.

The study involved 32,000 seniors in the U.S. and Canada during the last two flu seasons. Half got a regular flu shot and half got the high-dose version. Researchers called the participants to see if they had flu symptoms or were hospitalized. The high-dose shot was 24 percent more effective than the regular shot at preventing flu, against all strains, the company said.

Sanofi has the only high-dose flu shot for seniors on the market. It was used last year in 1 in 5 seniors who got vaccinated, according to Sanofi. The $27 per dose cost is more than twice the $12 for the company’s older version. But Medicare pays for both, and Sanofi executives say they don’t think cost is a significant deterrent. Instead, they believe doctors have been holding off until they saw real-world effectiveness studies.

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