For most people, getting the flu means feeling achy and feverish for a week or so, but for people 65 years and older, the flu can be much more serious. People in this age group are at high risk for severe flu illness and complications. In fact, an estimated 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations in the US occur in this age group each year. Last season, flu illness was particularly severe for those 65 and older, prompting CDC to report the highest flu-related hospitalization rates in this age group since it began tracking this information during the 2005-06 flu season.
Last season, the burden of disease in people 65 years and older was accompanied by reports that the flu vaccine did not work as well as expected in protecting individuals in this age group against one particular flu virus. If that news left you asking yourself whether getting a flu vaccine this season is still worthwhile for people 65 and older, the answer is absolutely and unquestionably, “Yes!” Vaccination remains the first and most important step in protecting against flu illness and its complications.
While the benefits of flu vaccination can vary, studies show that vaccination can provide a range of benefits, including reducing flu illness, antibiotic use, doctor’s visits, lost work, and even helping to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Vanderbilt University experts found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by nearly 77 percent in study participants 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.*
Other studies have found that flu vaccination reduces the risk of death in older adults. For people with certain underlying heart conditions, several studies indicate that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of a heart attack. Overall, there is significant evidence to support the benefits of vaccination in people 65 and older.
For those in this age group, there are two flu vaccine options available to choose from this season: the standard flu vaccine and a high-dose flu vaccine approved specifically for people 65 years of age and older. The high-dose vaccine contains more antigen than the regular flu shot, and this extra antigen is intended to produce a stronger immune response in seniors.
Flu vaccine is now offered in multiple locations. Use the vaccine finder at vaccine.healthmap.org/ to find a flu vaccination clinic near you. Medicare covers both flu and pneumonia vaccines with no co-pay or deductible. For more information about influenza or vaccination, visit www.nfid.org/influenza or www.cdc.gov/flu.
* Talbot HK, Zhu Y, Chen Q, et al. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in adults, 2011-2012 influenza season. Clin Infect Dis. 2013; doi: 10.1093/cid/cit124.