Should Seniors Get Flu Shots Every Year?


Concerns about the flu have recently taken a back seat to the coronavirus. Before COVID, the flu was a serious issue for seniors, especially as fall and winter approached. Getting a flu shot each year has been recommended for decades, but it might be even more important in the wake of the pandemic.

Let’s dive into a primer about the flu shot, including the newly recommended shots for seniors. But first, let’s talk about the flu.

What You Need to Know About the Flu

Influenza (what we shorten to “flu”) is a respiratory infection caused by a virus. This highly contagious virus is easily passed from one person to another. All it takes is being in close proximity to someone who has the flu or touching surfaces and objects that have been recently contaminated and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose – that can be enough to carry the flu particles into your body. 

When you have the flu, it might start out feeling like the common cold. That includes coughing, sore throat, sneezing, and discomfort in your chest. But those symptoms quickly become much stronger than what you would feel with the common cold, and then you may have other symptoms, including a high fever, chills, headache, body aches, and serious fatigue.

In some cases, those who contract the flu can ride it out at home. Getting plenty of rest and fluids, taking medication to bring down fever and ease body aches, and home remedies for any other symptoms are the norm. However, there are three antiviral medications that a doctor might prescribe within the first 48 hours of showing flu symptoms: Tamiflu, Relenza, and Rapivab. These medications can reduce the severity of the symptoms and the length of time in which you are sick[1]. For this reason, seniors should definitely consider contacting their doctors within the first 2 days of experiencing flu symptoms.

The symptoms of the flu might make you feel weak and tired, so being able to reach out for help the moment you might need it is essential. That’s where an emergency response solution comes into play. An Alert1 Medical Alert System can provide you with the peace of mind that if you need help, all you need to do is press a button. That connects you to our trained professionals who can help you get the assistance you need, any time of the day or night.

Why is There a New Flu Vaccine Every Year?

Getting a flu shot each year helps ensure proper protection. But why is there a new flu shot every year? It makes sense to ask that question when other vaccines are designed to work for many years.

Strains of influenza change each year. There is a new flu vaccine every year because the virus that causes the flu mutates every season. The strain that infected the majority of the population who got the flu last year might have changed so much this year that the old vaccine will no longer provide protection. That’s why pharmaceutical companies are constantly working to develop new vaccines from year to year.

Because the immune response of the elderly can wane sooner than that of younger people, it’s important to time the flu shot appropriately. The National Council on Aging says that ideally, you should get your flu shot by the end of October. Getting vaccinated too early might leave you without protection in the middle of flu season.

The New CDC Recommendations for Flu Vaccines

For many years the CDC didn’t recommend any particular flu shot for seniors. But new guidelines for 2022 recommend using higher-dose flu vaccines for those aged 65 and older. The high-dose vaccines are expected to better protect the elderly from the flu and potential related complications.[2]

However, if the high-dose vaccines are not available, it’s still important to get the standard vaccine. Any flu shot is better than no flu shot!

And remember, Medicare Part B covers the flu vaccine at no cost to you.

Will I Have a Reaction to the Shot?

In most cases, there is no reaction to the vaccine other than soreness or redness at the injection site. However, some individuals might experience a mild reaction, including muscle aches, headaches, and feeling as though you might be getting sick. This can include spiking a fever while your immune system begins to work to protect you from the flu[3].

If you’re nervous about having a reaction to the flu shot, invest in peace of mind with a medical alert pendant, watch, or bracelet, all of which are designed to allow you to reach out for help at the simple touch of a button, keeping you protected all year round.

While there are some who shouldn’t get the flu shot, those situations are rare. For the elderly, talking to your healthcare provider is key. The CDC recommends speaking to your doctor before the vaccination if: 

·         You have a severe and life-threatening allergy to any ingredient in the vaccine. (This might include eggs or egg proteins.) To be sure of the ingredients, speak to your doctor.

·         You have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccination. Your doctor can tell you if the new vaccinations are safe for you.

·         You have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (also known as GBS).

·         You aren’t feeling well on the day you are supposed to receive your vaccination.

Why Seniors Should Get the Flu Shot

The CDC estimates that up to 70% of hospitalizations for the flu occur in seniors aged 65 and older, and elderly adults also account for up to 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths every year. The elderly are at a much higher risk of serious complications from the flu than younger people are, especially since the immune system response tends to decline with age[4].

Seniors who have underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk from the flu, as they could develop life-threatening complications. These conditions can include heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, asthma or COPD, among others. If you have a serious illness, such as cancer or end-stage renal failure, speak to your doctor about whether a flu vaccine is right for you.

Other Ways to Protect Yourself During Flu Season

Just a few years ago, the flu was the biggest public health concern when winter rolled around. Today, we have COVID-19 to deal with as well. COVID vaccines are an essential part of staying safe throughout the year but are especially important during flu season. While it’s uncommon to get COVID and the flu at the same time, it does happen[5] – and that can spell a very severe illness for anyone, elderly or not.

The good news is that you can get the COVID booster shot as well as the flu shot at the same time. If you do choose to get both shots, experts recommend getting them in different arms[6]. 

Mild side effects, including redness at the injection site or soreness of the arm, are to be expected. However, studies have found that up to 11% of those who receive the COVID and flu shots at the same time are more likely to report side effects than those who got the COVID booster alone[7]. Keep that in mind as you plan for getting the shots, as you might want to take it easy for a few days if you experience symptoms as a result of the vaccinations.

There are other steps you can take to protect yourself during flu season. Many of the precautions you take against COVID-19 can also be effective against the flu, such as washing your hands often with soap and water (or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if no soap or water is available[8]), keeping at least a six-foot distance away from others, wearing a mask in crowded indoor areas, and avoiding touching surfaces and then touching your face.

Better health can help you fight off the flu and other infections. To that end, make sure you eat a balanced diet, get at least a little exercise each day, and take all medications as directed. Consider a medical alert system with fall detection, which can help you avoid the painful consequences of suffering a fall and being unable to get to help in a timely manner. Also consider aging in place solutions, such as grab bars in the bathroom, high-contrast tape or paint on stairs, and adequate lighting in every area of the home.

If you do wind up with the flu, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Though you might be able to deal with the symptoms at home, your doctor might want to give you one of the antiviral medications to hopefully make your journey through the flu much faster and less severe.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!