Note: This is a guest post from Richard Birkel, Acting Senior Vice President, Healthy Aging, National Council on Aging
Each year in the United States, more than nine out of 10 flu-related deaths and more than six out of 10 flu-related hospital stays occur in people aged 65 and older.
Why? Older adults are more vulnerable to influenza (commonly called “flu”), a serious infectious disease that can lead to hospitalization, pneumonia and even death.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. For older adults, an annual flu shot is critical and might even be life-saving.
Here are some frequently asked questions about how to protect yourself or an older adult in your life from the flu this year:
I’m a healthy older adult who has never had the flu or suffered any serious consequences. Do I still need to worry about catching the disease?
Yes. Anyone can catch the flu, and older adults are at greater risk for influenza and its serious complications. The flu is a common respiratory infection that is easily passed from person to person through coughing and sneezing or through contact with fluids from an infected person’s mouth or nose.
What should older adults do to best protect themselves against influenza and its related complications?
Vaccination is the best way to help protect against influenza. It is also helpful to take preventive measures, such as covering coughs, washing hands, and staying away from people who are sick, but these cannot replace vaccination as the best method of protection.
What are my vaccination options?
Adults 65 and older have two vaccine options available—the traditional flu shot, as well as a higher dose flu vaccine designed specifically to address the age-related decline of the immune system to trigger a stronger immune response following influenza immunization.
Who should not get a flu shot?
Talk to your health care provider before getting a flu shot if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs, a serious reaction to a previous flu shot, or Guillain-Barré syndrome.
When should I get vaccinated?
You should get your flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available. If you don’t have a chance to get a flu shot right away, vaccination throughout the influenza season into the winter months and beyond is still recommended and beneficial.
I got the flu shot last year. Do I need to get it again?
Yes. You need to get vaccinated against the flu every year because the types of influenza viruses circulating change annually, which is why a new vaccine is made each year to help protect against the current strains. In addition, immunity to influenza viruses wanes after a year, which makes annual vaccination important.
Is it OK to get a flu shot at a retail store or clinic instead of at my physician’s office?
Yes. Influenza vaccines are now widely available at retail stores, pharmacies, workplace flu clinics, and many more places. You should get vaccinated at a place that is most convenient for you.
Can I get influenza from the flu shot?
No. The flu shot does not contain the live virus, so it is impossible to get influenza from the vaccine.
Does Medicare cover the cost of the higher dose option?
Yes. Both vaccine options are covered by Medicare Part B with no copay.
Photo courtesy of the National Council on Aging via ThinkStock