New vaccine strategy better protects high-risk cancer patients from flu

Yale Cancer Center researchers have developed a vaccine strategy that reduces the risk of flu infections in cancer patients at highest risk for influenza. The findings were presented Dec. 6 at the 57th annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in Orlando, Florida.

Patients with cancers of the immune system, like multiple myeloma, are especially susceptible to common infections, and a bout of the flu can lead to serious illness and even death. Even though patients with multiple myeloma and other plasma cell disorders may receive an annual flu vaccine, studies show that a one-time flu shot does not offer adequate immune response.

The Yale researchers developed a strategy that entailed offering patients a high-dose flu vaccine followed by a second high-dose booster shot one month later. The high-dose vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) was approved in 2009 by the FDA as a single dose for adults over 65.

The booster strategy lowered the flu infection rate among patients to 6% versus an expected rate of 20%, and it improved protection against all flu strains covered by the vaccine in 66% of patients, said the study’s first author Dr. Andrew Branagan, a postdoctoral associate in medicine (hematology).

"Using an approved flu vaccine in a novel dosing schedule yielded promising results for a group patients at high risk for infection,” Branagan said. “We hope to confirm these results in a larger prospective randomized trial that is underway now at Yale during the 2015-2016 flu season. We suspect this strategy could benefit other cancer patient populations.”

This study was supported by the Arthur R. Sekerak Cancer Research Fund a Yale Cancer Center philanthropic fund.

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