People 75+ sought for flu vaccine study

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Carol Sorgen

Seasonal influenza (flu) is the fourth-leading cause of death for older Americans. That’s why it’s highly recommended that all adults 50 years of age or older receive an annual flu vaccine immunization. 

However, despite the fact that more older adults are receiving the vaccination, mortality has actually increased. Researchers theorize that may be due to the fact that the immune system — the part of the body that protects against infection — often works less effectively as we age. 

Researchers believe that, while many studies indicate the flu vaccine’s benefit for older adults overall, these studies have not adequately represented older and frailer individuals who suffer over three-quarters of influenza-related mortality. 

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has conducted a pilot study that showed significant vaccine failures in the frail elderly. In order to understand the reasons for influenza vaccine failure in this population, JHU researchers are currently conducting a four-year influenza immunization and post-vaccination influenza study in adults over 75 years of age.  

Who can participate?

Researchers hope that the study will provide a more accurate assessment of the clinical effectiveness of the flu vaccine in older adults.  A total of 525 people over the age of 75 will be participating in this study.

The main qualifying factor is to be over 75, but there are several conditions that would exclude participation. These include being allergic to eggs or to the vaccine, having active cancer, or undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

Other disqualifying factors include having active systemic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease; active cardiopulmonary disease like COPD, or taking oral steroids.

What the study entails

In order to determine if you are qualified for the study, a brief telephone questionnaire will be given. If you qualify and agree to proceed, you will be asked to come to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center or, if you are unable to come to Bayview, one of the Hopkins staff can visit you at your home. 

During that visit, your medical history will be reviewed, and vital signs, walking speed and grip strength will be measured. Several brief questionnaires will be administered, and blood and urine samples collected. You will then receive the flu vaccine at no cost.

Three to four weeks after you receive the flu shot, you will have another visit at Johns Hopkins Bayview or your home, where the questionnaires will be repeated, vital signs checked, and a second blood sample taken. 

Throughout the study, a staff member will call participants once a week to ask about their general health and any flu-like symptoms. These calls will be made throughout the flu season which typically lasts through the end of May.

If you begin to have any influenza-like symptoms at any time during the study, you will be asked report those symptoms so that a nasal swab can be taken to confirm influenza, and a third blood sample drawn to look at the immune response and protection of influenza vaccine.

The long-term goal of the Hopkins research is that more effective and targeted immunization strategies will strengthen immune protection against influenza for vulnerable older Americans.

To see if you are eligible, contact
Adaku Ikotun at (410) 550-2113 or aihekwe1@jhmi.edu, or Ora White at (410) 550-2113 or owhite1@jhmi.edu.