It’s October, which means flu season is here. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people 65 and older who should be getting the flu shot aren’t making the effort.
The CDC recently held a news conference where it urged Americans to get the flu vaccine. There are new formulations this year for people 65 and older, such as Fluzone High Dose, which is four times stronger than the normal vaccine, and Flaud, which strengthens the immune system.
Unfortunately, many older adults may not yet know about these vaccines or be willing to get vaccinated. According to CDC data, the number of people age 65 and older who received the flu shot last year dropped by 3.3 percentage points: only 63 percent of people in this age group were vaccinated.
During the 2014-15 flu season, 1 million people were hospitalized because of the flu. Of these patients, more than 75 percent of them were age 65 and older. An estimated 80-90 percent of flu-related deaths and between 50-70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur in seniors, according to the CDC.
The elderly are at greater risk for infection because their immune systems tend to become weaker with age. An infection is one challenge, but older adults also are at greater risk for health complications when they are ill.
“Vaccination not only reduces the chance that older adults will get the flu, it can help keep them out of the hospital by reducing the severity of the infection and related complications if they do get the flu,” said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director at National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Many people delay or don’t get the flu shot because they think they don’t need it, because they fear needles or because they wrongly assume that they won’t get sick. Others may assume that because they got the flu shot last year, they’re covered. However, the formulations change every year just as the virus does, so health experts must create new vaccines annually that protect against new strains of the flu.
In addition to getting the vaccine, older adults should be extra vigilant about certain habits during this time of year, including washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and making every effort to avoid people who are sick. Even if you do end up becoming sick before getting the vaccine, a timely flu shot can reduce the severity of the illness and reduce your risk of further complications.
Watch out for symptoms like cough, fever, sore throat, stuffy nose and body aches. Chills, headache and fatigue also are signs of the flu. If you have any of these symptoms, see your primary care doctor as soon as possible or visit your local pharmacy or drop-in clinic to get the vaccine.
Protect yourself this year to reduce your risk of illness. The flu shot only takes a few minutes to get, but it may prevent you from getting sick this flu season. To find out more about flu prevention for people 65 and older, please visit the CDC’s website. Also find more helpful tips in this blog post on our site, “How Seniors Can Prevent the Flu”, and contact our offices to schedule your flu shot today.