Flu Shots for Seniors

For most younger folds with a healthy immune system, the idea of catching the flu might not be fun, although not necessarily life-threatening. That isn’t the case for older adults (65+), who are a high-risk age group for flu complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Keep reading to learn more about why seniors are at higher risk for flu complications and how getting the flu shot can help seniors protect themselves from a flu virus.

Why are Seniors at Risk?

As people age, their immune systems typically weaken. That means, as people age, they are more likely to not just get sick more often, but more likely to face severe complications from these illnesses.

That is why people over the age of 65 are the group that accounts for the more serious complications, flu-related hospitalizations, and flu-related deaths in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

How the Flu Vaccine Works

Flu vaccines work by helping your immune system mount a stronger immune response against a disease.

It works like this: your immune system is your body’s primary defense against infections and diseases. When the body senses potential infection, it alerts the immune system. One way the system fights foreign invaders (e.g., harmful bacteria, viruses, and the like) is by producing proteins called antibodies; these antibodies can destroy the foreign invaders.

The flu vaccine helps your body make the antibodies it needs to fight a specific strain of the flu (as there are multiple influenza viruses). Because there is more than one strand of the influenza virus, experts have to predict which strand will be most dangerous in a given year. They will then create batches of vaccines to help protect against that specific strain of influenza.

There are multiple ways experts create vaccines to help boost immunity. The flu shot, for example, can contain either dead viruses or a single protein from the virus. The nasal spray version contains a live but weakened (attenuated) version of the virus. All types of immunization help the body fight the flu but do not actually cause the flu.

Side Effects of the Flu Shot

Many people experience mild side effects after taking the flu shot. For most, these side effects are nothing to worry about; in fact, they are signs that the shot is working as it is supposed to.

Mild side effects of the flu shot include:

  • Soreness at injection site
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Low-grade fever

Side effects from the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine include:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing

Which Flu Vaccine Should Older People Get?

Which flu vaccine is best? The answer to that question varies based on factors like availability of each vaccine, affordability, if a caregiver can administer the shot, and whether or not someone has underlying health conditions. Seniors should talk to their healthcare providers to decide which option is best for them.

Common vaccine options include the following:

  • FLUAD and FLUAD Quadrivalent – Manufactured by Seqirus, these are standard-dose adjuvanted flu vaccines. An adjuvant is simply the technical term for an ingredient added to a vaccine that helps create a stronger immune response.
  • Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent – Manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., this is a higher-dose vaccine. It contains 4x the antigen compared to most standard-dose flu vaccines. Antigen is the specific part of the vaccine that helps boost the immune system. This high-dose flu vaccine is only licensed for seniors and contains more antigen to help them build a stronger immune response.

Other Shots Seniors Should Get

In addition to an annual influenza vaccine, experts also recommend that seniors receive the following:

  • Pneumococcal vaccine, which helps protect against pneumonia
  • Zoster vaccine, which helps protect against shingles
  • Tetanus-diphtheria vaccine, which helps protect against tetanus and diphtheria

Where Can Seniors on Medicare Get Flu Shots?

Fortunately, most locations accept Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage coverage for flu shots, so seniors can receive their annual vaccinations at most healthcare locations that offer flu shots.

When is Flu Season?

Influenza strains circulate year-round, but they thrive in certain conditions. The period of increased flu transmissions due to changes in weather is known as flu season or seasonal influenza. In the United States, it typically starts around the end of October and can end as late as May. Peak transmissions of the seasonal flu occur between December and February.

Flu Shots and the Coronavirus

Many people wonder if flu shots can help protect them during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, vaccination against influenza does not protect against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Flu shots can only protect people against certain types of influenza.

(Disclaimer – This article does not constitute professional, medical, or legal advice. While we strive to keep information as accurate as possible, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article.)