Flu: What can you do to keep yourself safe?

The 2017-2018 flu season was a rough one. There were a total of 19,398 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations reported between October 1, 2017 and February 10, 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those cases, the highest rate of hospitalization was among adults 65 and older. Flu season exacting a heavier toll on older adults is not uncommon. Due to having weaker immune systems than younger adults, older people are at a greater risk of serious complications from the flu.

CDC studies of past flu seasons estimate that between about 70 to about 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 and older. To protect against flu and its potentially serious complications, the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year by the end of October. However, latecomers can still reap the benefits and can experience greater immunity as the season wears on. A flu shot can prevent or significantly reduce the duration and severity of an influenza infection, which is important for vulnerable populations like older adults and children. Flu vaccines are updated each season as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Also, immunity wanes over a year so it’s vital to have a flu shot every year.

Vaccines for older adults

Only injectable flu vaccines have been approved for use in past seasons. Nasal vaccines are not recommended for older adults. According to the CDC, there are regular flu shots that are approved for use in people 65 and older and there also are two vaccines designed specifically for people 65 and older:

High Dose Flu Vaccine: This vaccine contains four times the amount of influenza antigen as a regular flu shot. It is supposed to result in a better immune response for older people. In clinical studies, the high dose vaccine has been found to be more effective than standard dose vaccines in preventing the flu for seniors and lowered the risk of complications. It has been approved for use in the United States since 2009.

Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine: The adjuvanted flu vaccine, Fluad, is made with an additive that creates a stronger immune response to flu vaccination.  A Canadian study of 282 people 65 and older found that Fluad was 63 percent more effective than regular dose flu shots without the additive. This vaccine has been available in the U.S. since the 2016-2017 flu season.

The high dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots, such as: pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle ache and malaise. Before taking any flu shot, people who have had allergies to eggs or any ingredient in the vaccine should consult their health care provider.

Get your shot

To get a flu shot, you can schedule one with your healthcare provider or you can click here to find locations that offer vaccinations for free or at a low cost.