Because the flu can be “highly dangerous for anyone over 65,” older adults should absolutely get the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And yet, the number of flu shots given to people in this demographic has declined from last year. This is an issue of concern, says the CDC, because people who are 65 and older tend to have more serious complications when they do catch the flu. Why? Because immune systems weaken. The CDC forecasts that if 5 percent more people in the United States (of all ages) get this shot, it could prevent 800,000 illnesses and 10,000 hospitalizations annually. This vaccination can cut your chances of getting the flu by at least half, which is more effective than any other method.
When—and Why Annually?
The CDC recommends that older adults get the shot by the end of October (but not in the summer), and it takes about two weeks for immunity to occur. And, unlike most other vaccinations, flu shots are good for only one season. That’s because flu strains change. So what the shot protected you against last year may not be what’s circulating this year, which means that the components of the flu shot change as the strains do. Here’s another reason why you need an annual shot: Immunity wanes.
This year’s vaccination is a good match for common strains from the end of last year’s season—a season with a moderate amount of flu cases, with that season peaking late. And, to date, the vaccination appears to be a good match for versions showing up this 2016-2017 season.
Curious about how decisions are made about the components of a particular year’s flu shot? CDC provides insight here.
Flu Shot Recommendations: 65 and Up
“People 65 years and older can get any injectable vaccine flu shot that is approved for use in that age group. This includes cell-based, recombinant and flu shots made using traditional egg-based manufacturing processes.”
Two types of vaccines are specifically created for people aged 65 and up, including the high-dose vaccine. This contains four times the antigen as the standard shot, designed to provide a higher antibody production—and, therefore, stronger immunity. One clinical trial showed that people in this age demographic who got the high-dose vaccine had 24% fewer cases of influenza compared with those who got the standard dosage.
Another vaccine specifically designed for the older demographic is the adjuvanted flu vaccine called Fluad. This contains MF59 adjuvant, and is also designed to create stronger immunity. One Canadian study shows that this version was 63% more effective than regular dosages for people aged 65 and up. This particular vaccine is being made available in the United States for the first time this season.
These two types of flu vaccines may cause more of the typical side effects than the regular seasonal shot, including redness and swelling at the injection site, pain, muscle ache, headaches and general malaise.
This year, the nasal spray version of the vaccine is not being recommended. This is because it has not proven to be especially effective, a determination made by looking at results from 2013-2016. Instead, the shot is recommended, with this year’s version protecting against three to four different flu versions. The CDC hopes the nasal spray will be available as an option again in the future, as some people are willing to use the nasal spray but not get a shot.
What to Do Next
Ask your doctor which version of the flu shot is best for you. Because there is a new choice this year, your physician may have a different recommendation for you than in past years. And, if you’ve used the nasal spray in the past, ask your doctor what option makes sense as a replacement.