As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people 65 years and older get their flu shot this year, in addition to their currently recommended COVID-19 vaccines. Health experts across the country urge everyone 6 months and older to get an annual flu vaccine, but for those at higher risk of serious flu complications, including people 65 years and older, getting a flu shot is especially important.
While it is not possible to predict what will happen this season, CDC is preparing for an epidemic of flu this fall and winter as grandchildren are back in school and families begin traveling and socializing once again. The agency is concerned about what this could mean for people 65 years and older.
People 65 and older bear greatest burden of severe flu illness
While flu seasons vary in severity, during most seasons people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. In recent years it is estimated that between 70% and 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50% and 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occurred among people in this age group. Compared to younger adults, people 65 years and older are at higher risk of serious flu illness which is due in part to changes in immune defenses that occur with increasing age.
“Getting a flu shot is the most important thing people 65 years and older can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from flu,” Dr. David Shay, a medical officer with CDC’s Influenza Division, said. “Flu vaccination can prevent flu and its potentially serious complications and has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who got vaccinated but still get sick.”
Now is the time to get your flu shot
October is a good time for people 65 years and older to be vaccinated, but vaccination during November and later is still recommended because flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May. Although people in this age group may not respond as well to vaccination as younger people, studies have consistently found that flu vaccination has many benefits for people in this age group and has been effective in reducing the risk of flu-related medical visits and hospitalizations.
People 65 years and older should get a flu shot and not a nasal spray vaccine. There are regular flu shots approved for use in people 65 years and older, and two vaccines designed specifically, and only, for use among people in this age group. This includes the high-dose flu vaccine (brand name Fluzone High-Dose) and the adjuvanted flu vaccine (brand name Fluad Quadrivalent). Both of these vaccines are designed to create a stronger immune response in people 65 years and older. There also is some evidence to suggest the recombinant flu vaccine (brand name Flublok Quadrivalent) might also create a stronger immune response in people in this age group. No one of these flu shots is recommended over another; the most important thing is for everyone to get a flu vaccine every year. If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk with your doctor or another health care professional.
A flu shot protects against multiple flu viruses
Flu vaccines are the only vaccines designed to protect against flu and they protect against the four flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Flu vaccines for 2021-2022 were updated from last season’s vaccine to better match circulating viruses. Immunity from vaccination fully sets in after about two weeks.
“In addition to getting a flu shot, people 65 years and older should take the same everyday preventive actions CDC recommends for everyone,” Shay said. “This includes avoiding people who are sick, covering coughs, and washing hands often.”