Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by one of the influenza viruses. The flu ranges from being mild to severe and can cause severe complications for children, seniors, and people with other health conditions.
Currently, the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. There are flu vaccinations for individuals 6 months of age and up, but there are special flu vaccinations for seniors to provide additional protection.
The flu vaccination for seniors is a specially tailored shot designed to meet the unique medical needs of seniors. These shots have a higher dose than traditional flu vaccines. This is important because seniors often have suppressed immune systems. Also, seniors are susceptible to complications, such as pneumonia.
These complications can could lead to long and expensive hospitalizations – and a host of other problems and they can even be fatal.
Senior Flu Shot vs. the Regular Flu Shot
There was only one flu shot on the market for several years. Everyone received the same vaccine, no matter their age. However, this has changed in recent years with the launch of new vaccinations.
There are two flu shots that are uniquely designed for seniors:
- Fluzone High Dose
These shots are specially formulated to reduce the risk that seniors will get the flu. And, if a senior does get the flu, then these vaccinations will reduce the risk of complications, such as pneumonia, which may result in hospitalization or even death.
Where Can I Get These Shots?
Most doctors offices have these specialized senior flu shots. It is important to ask before you get your vaccine to see which vaccine is best for you. Increasingly, large pharmacies, such as CVS and Rite Aid, are offering senior-specific shots. In addition, many neighborhood flu clinics also offer them. This allows people the option to choose the most convenient location.
- Doctors offices
- Community centers/senior centers
- Pharmacies and Big Box retailers, such as Target and Wal-Mart
- Local hospitals
- Flu clinics
Are Flu Shots Free for Seniors?
Seniors can receive flu shots free-of-charge or at a very low cost based on their insurance and facility that is administering the shots. The price should not dissuade anyone from getting a flu shot.
Why Should Seniors Get the Flu Shot?
Seniors should get the flu shot for the following reasons:
- The flu can be particularly troublesome and dangerous for seniors
- These enhanced flu shots dramatically reduce the risk of contracting the flu. Studies have indicated different percentage declines when taking flu vaccinations for seniors.
- These specialized flu shots mean that if you do get the flu, your symptoms will likely be milder, but, there is still no guarantee
- The risks of the flu are large compared to the side effects from the vaccine, which are typically extremely mild. The one exception to this is Guillain Barre Syndrome, which is a severe neurological condition. Guillain Barre Syndrome is discussed in more detail below.
High Dose Flu Vaccine vs. Quadrivalent
New High Dose Flu Vaccine For Seniors
Fluzone High Dose is a flu vaccination for seniors that is made up of the three flu strains most likely to cause the flu (mayoclinic.org). It first debuted in the United States in 2009. As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fluzone High Dose has protected seniors from the flu up to 24 percent more than the traditional vaccines. The additional protection is primarily because the vaccine is packed with more than 4 times the antigen of a typical flu shot (CDC.gov).
This flu vaccination for seniors is a good choice for the following reasons:
- Seniors are at a greater risk of complications from the flu
- 90% of flu-related deaths in the United States occur in people 65 years and older (Fluzone.com)
- Studies found that there were 25% fewer cases of influenza in seniors who took the high-dose vaccine compared to the ones who took the standard-dose vaccine (Fluzone.com)
What Is The Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine?
The Quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against four different flu viruses, which includes, two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. Other flu vaccines, like Fluzone High Dose, only protects against three strains. The three viruses in the trivalent vaccines includes two influenza A strains and one influenza B strain. The Quadrivalent vaccine offers broader protection against flu viruses by including the other B strain. (CDC.gov)
The quadrivalent flu vaccine is for individuals 6 months of age and older. There is no recommendation for one flu vaccination for seniors over another at this time. It is imperative that a flu vaccination is taken to protect against the flu virus.
What about FLUAD? — The Other Senior Flu Vaccine
FLUAD debuted on the U.S. market only last year. However, initial trial results in Canada were extremely promising. Unlike Fluzone High Dose, which works by upping the antigen power of the vaccine, the FLUAD shot works via a different mechanism. It includes the immune system-boosting ingredient, adjuvant MF59.
This immune system-boosting ingredient is important because many seniors have suppressed immune systems. Sometimes, this is due to underlying medical conditions. At other times, it is a natural result of the aging process.
As previously stated, the U.S. medical system does not recommend one flu shot for seniors over another. A senior, in consultation with their medical providers, can make the decision regarding which flu shot to take. Also, some offices and clinics may only have one of the two options available (for a variety of reasons).
What Medical Experts Have to Say
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and most medical professionals recommend that all seniors over the age of 65 receive influenza vaccines This is true, even during years like this one when it is estimated that the vaccine is not particularly effective against various active strains. This does not mean, however, that these vaccines do not carry certain risks.
Senior Flu Shot Side Effects
Based on studies, there are no known differences between the side effects for vaccinations that are for seniors or those made for the general population. There are also no differences between the trivalent or the quadrivalent vaccination. The most common side effects from the flu shot are:
- Swelling near the site
- Low grade fever
Flu Vaccine Risks
All flu vaccines carry certain risks. However, the majority of the risks are relatively mild and only affect a small percentage of those who receive the vaccine.
Because Fluzone High Dose and FLUAD are significantly stronger than traditional flu vaccines, it should not be surprising that these vaccines may also have stronger side effects.
In rare cases, the side effects may be much more serious, such as Guillain Barre Syndrome that may have profound, long-term consequences.
Because these enhanced flu shots for the elderly contain many of the same ingredients as standard flu shots, medical professionals caution that anyone who has ever experienced an allergic reaction from a regular flu shot should avoid getting one of these new shots. Also, Fluzone High Dose and FLUAD are not appropriate for anyone who has an allergy to eggs.
As with traditional flu shots, your medical provider will ask you a series of questions before giving you the flu vaccine to make sure that it is an appropriate choice for you.
What is Guillain Barre Syndrome?
Guillain Barre Syndrome occurs when the body attacks its own nerves, leading to a range of symptoms (Mayo Clinic, 2017). It is one of the most serious, but also the most rare side effect that can result from receipt flu shot. This risk should not dissuade patients from getting the senior flu vaccine. It is important to remember that only a small percentage of people ever contract Guillain Barre Syndrome.
The specialized senior flu shot offers many benefits compared with traditional flu vaccines. The main benefit is reducing the risk of seniors contracting the flu and reducing symptoms if they do get the flu. However, before making the change from one flu vaccine to another, it is important to discuss this decision with your medical provider.
All flu vaccines, including the senior flu shot, carry some types of risk. Most of these risks are relatively minor, such as headaches, body aches, and nausea. However, some risks are bigger, such as the chance of contracting Guillain Barre Syndrome. These risks pale in comparison with the benefits of receiving the flu vaccine.
Flu vaccinations for seniors should be encouraged to protect them from serious complications and hospitalizations.