Flu season is just around the corner, and it’s that time of the year when everyone seems to ask, “Should I get a flu shot?” With the amount of conflicting information floating around, it can be difficult for seniors to discern the truth – that the flu shot is the best prevention available, and can potentially be life-saving for the elderly. During National Immunization Awareness Month, it’s important for seniors to learn the facts (and myths) about flu shots.
Myth: You don’t need to get a flu shot every season.
The reality is you most likely will not be protected from this year’s flu by last year’s shot. Each year, the flu vaccine is tailored to protect against the most common strain or strains of the flu that season. The basic vaccine usually protects against three different strains, and in recent years a quadrivalent shot (which protects against four strains) has become available. Don’t be worried by all of the choices you have – your doctor can help you decide which is right for you. "Getting some type of vaccine is important," said Dr. Richard K. Zimmerman, flu vaccine specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. "Which one you get matters less."
Myth: The flu shot will give you the flu.
It’s true that the vaccine contains the flu virus, but not in its live form; it’s an inactivated form and therefore not infectious. That’s how vaccines work – by introducing the virus, your body works to create antibodies that will help protect you from the flu. Some people do experience mild side effects from the shot that can mimic flu symptoms, such as soreness at the injection site, body aches, and a low fever. Remember that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect in your body, so if you find yourself experiencing more severe symptoms, it’s possible that you caught the flu virus before the shot had a chance to work.
Myth: The flu shot doesn’t work.
There can be some truth to this myth, as the flu vaccine is never 100 percent effective. However, a new high-dose vaccine is available for the elderly that is reportedly 24 percent more effective than the standard vaccine. Designed specifically for those over 65, the high-dose vaccine contains 4 times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot. For seniors, who have weakened immune system responses after vaccination, this high dose will help increase antibody production. Even though flu strains are constantly mutating, vaccination can still provide protection. “Antibodies made in response to the vaccine can provide some protection (called cross-protection) against different but related influenza viruses,” said the CDC.
Myth: A flu shot isn’t necessary because the flu isn’t that dangerous.
While the flu may cause younger people to miss work or school for a week, for seniors it can often have deadly consequences. Aging causes the immune system to weaken and decreases the ability to recuperate, meaning seniors can end up hospitalized from flu-related complications, including pneumonia. According to the CDC, between 80 and 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in those over 65, as well as 50 to 70 percent of hospitalizations. “When older people get the flu and get knocked down further, they are more likely to get other infections such as pneumonia,” said Dr. Andrew Duxbury, an associate professor in the gerontology, geriatrics, and palliative care division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. “Just being knocked into bed for as little as three or four days can, in a very frail older person, make it so they lose the ability to talk and do for themselves. It can cause a spiral in disabilities and increase chances of falls and injuries.” While the flu shot may not be 100 percent effective, the CDC says it’s still the best way for seniors to protect themselves.
Written by Taylor French with Amada Senior Care.