When I was a kid, I hated getting shots. No big surprise there—most kids hate getting shots. But I was against them so much that my pediatrician would dash in, give me the shot, and dash back out again. That’s how loudly I screamed. I guess his other patients didn’t have my decibel level.
Fast-forward a few years and here I am, all grown up. I can’t say I like getting shots any more than I used to, but at least now I manage not to scream. In fact, I feel grateful that many vaccinations are covered by my insurance, which is a luxury not everyone has. And perhaps no annual vaccination is as vital as your flu shot—especially if you are over sixty-five. If you’re thinking that the older adult in your life can skip it, read on to learn why senior flu shots are so important.
Why the Flu Is a Serious Matter for Older Adults
Our immune systems tend to grow weaker as we age. This means that while a brief stint with the flu may be unpleasant for a younger person, older adults are at risk for more serious complications. Between 2005 and 2011, it’s estimated that 80-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths struck those 65 and older.[1. “Influenza Illness and Hospitalizations Averted by Influenza Vaccination in the United States, 2005–2011,” June 19, 2013, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0066312] Fifty to seventy percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occurred within that same age group. It’s clear that when it comes to older adults, the flu is no laughing matter.
Protecting Older Adults from the Flu
Protection from the flu, although not full-proof, is pretty simple. You only have to get one shot per year—something the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends for everyone six months of age and older. Receiving them annually is key because the vaccine is updated in order to respond to changing viruses. In addition, the immunity the vaccine provides decreases over twelve months, making repeated vaccinations necessary.
Older adults actually have not one, but two flu shots from which to choose. There’s one with a regular dose of the vaccine, and a newer kind with a higher dose made especially for them.[2. “Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine,” August 18, 2015, “https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/qa_fluzone.htm] The latter contains four times the antigens as the regular vaccine and is believed to elicit a stronger immune response. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about which vaccine best suits their needs.
Why Don’t More Older Adults Get Flu Shots?
With all the benefits of flu shots, it’s surprising that more people don’t get them. However, older adults can be reluctant to take advantage of this service for several reasons. They may be like me and just hate getting shots! Unfortunately, the nasal flu vaccine you may have heard of isn’t yet approved for those over 49, but stay tuned!
Other older adults are worried about the cost of the vaccine. However, flu shots are covered under Medicare at 100% if you get them from a provider who accepts this insurance. Your loved one literally loses nothing except a little bit of their time by getting a vaccine. Rather a small price to pay for good health!
Still, some of those who need the shot are homebound and unable to get to a location where the vaccine can be administered. Home health aides can be invaluable in these situations, providing transportation to and from a local pharmacy, walk-in clinic, or doctor so your loved one can be protected against the flu.
Get Senior Flu Shots Now
The best time to get an annual flu vaccine is as soon as it becomes available. Most doctors and pharmacies have them by now, so if you’ve been putting it off, no more excuses! Immunity from the vaccine takes about two weeks to settle in, which makes getting timely senior flu shots even more critical. And while you’re at the doctor or pharmacy, why not opt for one yourself? Protecting your health together is a great to show your loved one how much you care!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.