The Importance of Influenza, Pneumonia, and COVID Vaccines


Getting vaccinated is important for everyone, no matter their age. But for seniors and the elderly, some vaccines become especially vital. These include the vaccines that protect against the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19. There are very good reasons for this.

Having the flu is never good, but for those with underlying conditions or those who are of advanced age, the flu can become deadly. According to the CDC, those aged 65 or older are at a higher risk of developing the flu. And once they do, they are at greater risk of hospitalization or death. Between 50% and 70% of those who are hospitalized for the seasonal flu are over the age of 65, and between 70% and 85% of all flu-related deaths occur among this age group as well.

Pneumonia is another scary illness. This is an infection of the lungs that can make it difficult to breathe and cause a heavy cough. Though anyone can develop pneumonia, those over the age of 65 are more likely to become very sick from it.

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down over the last few years and scientists now believe it’s with us to stay. That means vaccines will become better over time, resulting in fewer infections of the virus. We’ve seen it already with the current vaccine, which studies have shown results in an 88% lower risk of hospitalization for those aged 65 and up. Of those who did get COVID-19 after their vaccines, 94% had little to no symptoms[1].

Like wearing a medical alert device every day to protect yourself against the complications that might arise if you suffer a fall or medical emergency, vaccines are also a layer of protection against the unforeseen. Let’s look at the facts about vaccines for flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19.

The Flu

Influenza is caused by a virus that easily travels from one person to another. It can lead to illness that lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Many recover without incident, but some can develop complications that range from a simple sinus or ear infection to something more serious, like pneumonia. According to the National Institute on Aging, you are at higher risk of those complications if:

·         You are 65 or older

·         You have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease

·         You have heart disease

·         You’ve had a stroke in the past

·         You live in a long-term or assisted care facility

Those who have existing medical conditions can experience more severe complications from the flu. This is especially true for older adults, whose immune systems are not as strong as they used to be.

Even if you get the flu vaccine, you might still get the flu. Since it can be deadly for seniors, it’s vitally important to contact your doctor at the first sign of symptoms and request an antiviral medication that can help you combat the flu. Prompt treatment can make the virus easier for your body to handle.

Symptoms of the flu include[2]:

·         Fever and chills

·         Cough

·         Sore throat

·         Stuffy or runny nose

·         Fatigue

·         Body aches

·         Headache

It’s important to note that for the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19 infections, many of the symptoms can make you feel weak or unsteady on your feet. If you don’t yet have a medical alert system with fall detection, now is the time to get one. Having the peace of mind of a senior life-saving alert system literally at your fingertips can make it easier to deal with whatever symptoms might come your way.

Getting the Flu Vaccine

A yearly flu vaccine helps protect you against getting the flu, but it’s not 100% effective in preventing all cases. However, those who are vaccinated usually show much milder symptoms if they do get sick, and that can help prevent hospitalization or death from the illness. The flu vaccine is quite safe and recommended for everyone except those under 6 months of age. Those who are over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of hospitalization and death from flu complications, so it’s vitally important to get the shot every year, preferably by the end of October. Immunity kicks in about two weeks after the shot. (Note that those over 65 should not get the nasal spray vaccine).

The flu virus mutates all the time, so the flu vaccines change each year to keep up with new strains. This Vaccine Virus Selection page from the CDC can provide the exact composition of the vaccine for the current season if you want to know exactly what’s in it. You can choose to get the regular flu shot that is given to anyone six months or older, or you can choose from two designed specifically for elderly adults[3]:

·         High Dose Flu Vaccine. Delivered under the brand name Fluzone High-Dose, this flu vaccine has four times the amount of the inactivated virus, or antigen, as the regular flu shot. It creates a stronger immune system response, which can better protect you. In fact, those who got this vaccine had 24% fewer cases of the flu than those who got the regular shot.

·         Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine. Offered under the brand name Fluad Quadrivalent, this vaccine contains an ingredient called MF59 adjuvant, which can also spark a higher immune response over the regular flu shot.

Either vaccine can cause more of the mild side effects you’ve come to expect from any flu vaccine, which can include tenderness, swelling, or redness at the injection site, muscle aches and weakness, or a headache. Expect the side effects to subside within three days.

Want to know more? Look at these information sheets from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


Pneumonia can be a bacterial or viral infection. It can be caused by bacteria that is already present in your lungs, or can develop from the flu virus, the common cold, or a fungal infection in your lungs. You might also have related infections, such as those in your ear, sinus cavity, or bloodstream. Pneumonia can be contagious and spread from one person to another. Animals get it too, and can transmit it to humans[4].

Meningitis is also a type of pneumonia infection that can be surprisingly deadly. WebMD offers a list of warning signs for those who worry about meningitis as a result of pneumonia.

The symptoms of pneumonia often begin innocently enough with a light cough that slowly progresses to something more serious. Other symptoms include[5]:

·         Fever and chills (though some might have a lower than usual body temperature)

·         A cough (productive or dry)

·         Shortness of breath

·         Low blood oxygen levels

·         Chest pain upon coughing or even breathing

·         Nausea and throwing up

·         Muscle aches and a feeling of weakness

·         Headache and (rarely) sudden confusion

·         Feeling fatigued

·         Diarrhea

Getting the Pneumonia Vaccine

While there are two types of vaccines available to protect against pneumonia, the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (known as PCV13) and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PPSV23) are designed for adults over the age of 65. They are also for those who have a chronic health condition, such as asthma, HIV, cancer, diabetes, and some other diseases. Those who smoke or have a weakened immune system should get the vaccine as well.

These one-dose vaccines help your body create proteins, often called antibodies, which destroy pneumonia bacteria. Since the vaccine doesn’t have any live bacteria or virus in them, it’s impossible to get pneumonia from the vaccine. It’s important to remember that the vaccine can’t protect against all pneumonia; however, even if you do get pneumonia, the infection will be milder and the duration will be shorter than if you didn’t have the vaccine. Experts estimate that the vaccine prevents up to 70% of pneumonia infections.

If you’ve never had a pneumonia vaccine before, you should get the PCV13 first, then get the PPSV23 between 6 and 12 months later, according to Harvard Medical School. If you’ve already had PPSV23, then you can get PCV13 if a year has passed since your first vaccination.

However, there are some times when you should not get the vaccine. If you have serious allergies to the vaccine or any of its ingredients, steer clear. If you have a fever, wait until you feel better before getting the vaccine.


With the New York Times reporting over one million American fatalities from coronavirus – and that number is likely much lower than the actual number of those who died – it’s clear that COVID-19 is not something to mess with. If someone is going to show symptoms of the virus, it will happen between two and 14 days after exposure. Symptoms might be mild or severe, some might have a few symptoms but not all of them, and others might show no symptoms at all. The most common symptoms include[6]:

·         Fever or chills

·         Shortness of breath

·         Difficulty breathing

·         Cough

·         Headache

·         Muscle aches

·         Fatigue

·         Sore throat

·         Congestion or runny nose

·         Loss of taste or smell

·         Nausea and vomiting

·         Diarrhea

The older you are, the more likely you are to get very sick if you get COVID-19. Those aged 85 or older are at greatest risk of death from the infection, though the risk increases for those in their 50s and up. This is especially true if you have an underlying medical condition[7].

Protect Yourself from COVID-19

Getting the COVID-19 vaccines can help keep you safe. These vaccines are given on a set schedule to help ensure that you get the best benefits possible. There are two options for these vaccines as of this writing: the vaccine from Pfizer and the vaccine from Moderna.

With the Pfizer vaccine, you will get a second dose of your vaccine 21 days after the first one. For the Moderna vaccine, you will get your second dose 28 days later. Those who are immunocomproised might need a third shot four weeks after their second one for even better immunity. The CDC has a recommended schedule for all vaccines, including COVID-19; it’s best to stick to this schedule as closely as possible to ensure the best protection. You will also need a booster or two, depending upon your situation; speak to your doctor about COVID-19 boosters and visit this blog post we wrote about it recently.

To get more facts about the COVID-19 vaccine, head over to this very informative page at the Mayo Clinic.

Take Measures to Prevent Flu, Pneumonia, and COVID-19 Infections

Even after getting the vaccines, you should still be vigilant in taking the proper precautions to avoid getting ill and to avoid infecting others if you do get sick. Some of the most effective ways to do this are also the most simple.

·         Wash your hands thoroughly and often

·         Avoid touching your face as much as you can

·         Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough

·         Keep some physical distance between you and others

·         Stay home if you are sick

·         Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms

·         Wear a mask in crowded places

But most importantly, get those vaccinations! You can get them at your doctor’s office, local health department, or even your local pharmacy (call ahead to make sure they have the vaccines you need). To find locations where you can get vaccines, visit

Most individuals can get their vaccines for free or at very little cost[8]. Medicare and private insurance covers the cost of vaccines, but might require that you get the vaccine at certain locations. If you don’t have health insurance, get in touch with your health department or medical clinic to ask about getting the vaccines at no cost.

While you are protecting yourself against the viruses that threaten senior health, why not consider getting a medical alert pendant, bracelet, or watch? This small button alarm provides significant peace of mind that if you suffer an accident or medical emergency, help is available within seconds – just press the button.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!