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West Michigan pharmacist says seniors could struggle finding high-dose flu vaccines

Flu vaccines for general population, and those 65 years and older.{ } (WWMT/Sam Knef)
Flu vaccines for general population, and those 65 years and older. (WWMT/Sam Knef)
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A West Michigan pharmacist said high-dose flu shots designated for people most vulnerable to the flu might be difficult to find, as doctors are continuing to stress the importance of getting flu shots during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Megan Watt, the director of Gull Pointe Pharmacy in Kalamazoo, said she knew going into the 2020 flu season she wanted to vaccinate as many people as the pharmacy could. Pharmacies offer a regular influenza vaccine for people between the ages of 6 months and 65 years but offer a higher dose vaccine for people 65 and older, who Watt said are more susceptible to flu.

“We knew that it was going to be very important to make sure that as many people were immunized for influenza as possible. Since we did know going into this season that you could get both of those together," Watt said. "It’s really important that we can protect as many people as possible."

Watt said as people age, their ability to have heightened immune response goes down. Older people also have a higher risk of dying or becoming sick.

“With more exposure to viral particles, you get a higher immune response, and this is particularly important for our older population," Watt said.

Watt said some elderly people in West Michigan are having a hard time finding the high-dose vaccines.

“Because it’s only been out in the market for a few years, the high dose, there’s just increasing awareness, both in the patients, and in providers, that this is an available option and what the benefits are," she said. “We do know of at least two pharmacies that got in a load of high dose, and then went through them, and were then out."

She said Gull Pointe Pharmacy ordered double the amount of the higher dose vaccines in 2020, knowing there would be high demand.

“A patient reported to me the other day that they went to a local hospital, and they didn’t have any flu vaccine. And my assumption is that they’re being restocked as quickly as possible," she said. "There is an increased demand for that, and I think that probably our supply is going to last a few more weeks at most, and then we’ll have to restock if we can find more.”

Watt said even if pharmacies are out of the higher dose vaccine, seniors should still get a shot of the normal dose. She said it's more effective than no shot.

“Whether or not we’ll be able to offer the high dose, I’m not sure, but my plan is that throughout as much of the flu season as possible, we’ll have something available," she said.

Michigan Pharmacists Association Director of Professional Development Farah Jalloul said the Michigan Pharmacists Association wasn't anticipating higher dose vaccine shortages at the state level.

“I have not heard yet that there has been access issues, however we do also monitor the CDC's website,” Jalloul said.

Watt said people who contract both influenza and COVID-19 are much more likely to become seriously ill or die.

Jalloul said getting the flu shot lowers the burden on hospitals.

"With our health system already being so saturated and being burdened by the COVID pandemic, I think this year, it’s more important than ever," Jalloul said.

Bronson spokesperson Carolyn Wyllie sent a statement regarding vaccine delays: "Bronson has experienced some delays in receiving shipments of the regular and high-dose flu vaccines. While some of our locations do have the vaccine, we encourage patients to call ahead for availability. The manufacturer has told us to expect shipment within the next few weeks."

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