It’s flu season, and if you’re a senior 65 or older, you’ll most likely receive a higher-dose version of the traditional flu vaccine. Known as Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, the newer shot has been shown to provide four times the protection of the standard version.
This high-dose vaccine is only approved for use in those over 65. The reason for this is that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the vaccine was based on clinical trials that were performed in patients 65 and older.
It’s critical for seniors to take advantage of this higher layer of protection that is offered to them. As people age, their immune systems have a harder time fighting off the flu, says Ohmar Win, MD, medical director of Prisma Health Senior Care, a program based on the PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) model.
Seniors who do get the flu have traditionally experienced more intense side effects, such as coughing, low oxygen, low blood pressure, fast heart rate and possibly pneumonia.
For seniors with chronic conditions, a flu vaccine is an especially important preventive tool. In people with heart disease, side effects of the flu can strain the heart and cause a heart attack. The CDC reports that people with heart disease who get a flu vaccination are less likely to experience a cardiac event, especially if a patient has had a recent cardiac event. In addition, getting the vaccine reduces the chance of being hospitalized for influenza among those with diabetes and chronic lung disease.
Not only can the flu send seniors to the hospital—in some cases, it can be deadly. Up to 85 percent of the seasonal deaths from the flu each year occur in seniors 65 and older.
Those who decline getting a flu shot of any kind may be setting themselves up for trouble.
“Some people buy into the myth that the vaccine will give you the flu,” says Ann Reese, NP, of Prisma Health Senior Care. “Although the CDC reports that some may experience side effects—such as soreness, redness, swelling, headache, fever, nausea and muscle aches—the shot does not give you the flu,” stresses Reese, “and any symptoms should subside in a few days.”
While getting the shot doesn’t guarantee protection against getting the flu, if you do get the flu after being vaccinated, the symptoms are typically less severe than they might otherwise have been.
Kathleen Stevens is community engagement coordinator with Prisma Health Senior Care.