Protect yourself with the flu shot for seniors

The flu is nothing to mess with. It’s important for everyone to do what they can to stay healthy, but it’s especially important for seniors.

People age 65 or older should be aware of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that recommends getting an enhanced adjuvanted vaccine or high-dose flu vaccine for greater protection.

Due to immune system changes that happen as we age, people age 65 and older do not have as strong of a response to vaccination. This diminished immune response makes older adults more vulnerable to develop complications from the flu. Older adults account for 70-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths and 50-70% of flu-related hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

Flu symptoms in seniors

Flu symptoms for seniors are the same as they are for other populations: fever, cough, runny nose, headache, fatigue, aches, sore throat and a stuffy nose.

While these symptoms aren’t fun for anyone, they can be especially dangerous for the elderly, as they can quickly turn into something far worse.

The flu can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic conditions like asthma, emphysema and heart disease and even death.

But, it’s very easy to prevent the flu turning into any of these concerning, life-threatening conditions.

Best flu shot for seniors

While there are many flu vaccine options, there is a specially designed flu vaccine for adults age 65 and older to best respond to the flu for a weakened immune system.

The medical experts at OSF HealthCare anticipated the new guidance and arranged to have Fluad quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine available for patients age 65 and older. Fluad is an inactivated vaccine, which means it uses the killed version of the influenza virus.

“While antibody levels are no higher with an enhanced vaccine compared to the traditional vaccine, longer term clinical trials now show less severity of illness, hospitalizations and death with the enhanced influenza vaccines in advanced age groups,” said Mark Meeker, DO, vice president of Community Medicine at OSF HealthCare.

What is the difference between the regular flu shot and the senior flu shot?

The senior flu shot contains four times as much flu virus antigen, which stimulates a boosted immune response, compared to the regular flu shot. Fluad contains an adjuvant, an ingredient that’s added to a vaccine to help create a stronger immune response to vaccination. That’s what makes it perfect for seniors who have weakened immune systems compared to younger populations.

When to get the senior flu shot

The flu season runs from December through February, but cases can start spiking as early as October. It’s best to get the vaccine by the end of October so you’re ready to face the thick of flu season with a strong immune system.

You can schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, most pharmacies have the flu shot available or community health clinics often offer the senior flu shot. Be sure to talk with your primary care provider to figure out what your best flu shot option is.

Many insurance providers cover the flu vaccine in full or part, including Medicare. Some communities also offer free flu shots. See what’s available in your community and check your insurance to see what kind of coverage you have. But, don’t let cost stop you from getting your flu vaccine. Talk with your doctor’s office or a community health clinic to get as much information you can on what’s available.

Are influenza vaccines safe?

Yes, the flu vaccine is safe and effective. It’s actually much safer to get the vaccine than it is to get the flu. You can still get the flu even after getting the vaccine, but because your immune system is primed to respond to the flu virus, you’ll likely experience a mild, non-life threatening case of the flu.

Side effects from senior flu shot

The enhanced vaccine may result in more of the temporary, mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal flu shots, according to the CDC. These side effects could include pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle ache and fatigue. Symptoms typically clear up within one to three days.

“The most important thing to protect you and your family from the flu is to get vaccinated,” Dr. Meeker said. “If you’re over 65, we now recommend getting the enhanced vaccine instead of the traditional one. If you’re unsure, have a conversation with your physician or advanced practice provider about what you should do. An ounce of prevention is most often worth several pounds of cure.”

It’s rare to have an allergic reaction to the flu shot, but if you’re concerned about an allergic reaction, talk to your primary care provider about the best flu shot option for you. This can be relevant for those allergic to eggs or latex.

How to protect vulnerable populations

Family members in frequent contact with older adults or people with certain high risk medical conditions should also get vaccinated to protect their more vulnerable loved ones. There are several standard flu vaccine options for younger, healthy people, including a flu shot or a nasal spray vaccine.

Other germ prevention measures should always be taken by everyone, especially during flu season.

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Disinfect commonly touched items
  • Stay home when sick
  • Cover your cough and sneeze