Why Do Older Adults Need A Different Flu Shot?

Why Do Older Adults Need A Different Flu Shot?

by Angelique Harris

It is no secret that our bodies go through a handful of changes as we age. One of things that many people don’t think about is what happens to the immune system. Older adults tend to have a weaker immune system and are therefore at higher risk for infection. With flu season coming around the corner it is important that we make sure everyone gets the flu shot best suited for them. For adults older than the age of 65 it is recommended to get the high-dose flu vaccine. The high dose vaccine contains higher amount of viral protein intended to result in a stronger immune response than the regular flu vaccine.1

There are many factors that affect the level of risk an individual has for developing a serious infection from the influenza virus. One important factor to consider is age. For adults 65 years and older, there is a high risk of developing complications from the influenza virus sometimes requiring hospitalization. Studies produced by the Center of Disease Control, estimate that this age group results in 70% to 85% of flu-related deaths and 50% to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations each year.2 When provided the regular flu vaccine over the senior one, studies found that older adults had 50% to 75% fewer antibodies than the younger population.3

A new flu vaccine is produced each year by estimating certain viral strain to determine which combination is likely to provide the greatest protection. Since this is an estimation, the efficacy rates each year are variable, however, there are multiple studies that have found that the flu vaccine is effective in preventing doctor visits and hospitalizations due to complications from the flu. When compared, patients 65 years and older, the recommended high dose vaccine produced a stronger immune response than the standard trivalent used in the younger population and resulted a 24% higher efficacy rate. A study in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine Journal, found that the Fluzone high dose also corresponded to a lower risk of hospital admissions.3

Some individuals do experience mild side effects. These side effects include redness, soreness, swelling along with fever, headache, and fatigue. These side effects may last for a few days and do not compare in severity to the common side effects of the actual flu. While the vaccine does provide some protection, like all vaccines it is not 100%. Other methods to reduce the spread of influenza include frequent handwashing, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces and staying home when you feel sick.4

While the efficacy of the flu vaccine varies each year, it is still important to get vaccinated. For the older population, the vaccine may be the difference between life or death. Influenza can lead to further complications such as pneumonia as well as worsen pre-existing lung and heart conditions.5 These worsening symptoms can require professional treatment and support requiring doctor visits as well as hospitalizations. Although it may not prevent you entirely from getting the flu, it will likely ensure the symptoms to be far less severe. Not only can getting vaccinated help protect yourself but also help protect others around you unable to receive vaccinations.

Sources:

  1. Flu & People 65 Years and Older. [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2021 May 6 [cited Aug 11, 2021]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/65over.htm
  2. Gillespie, Claire. What is the High-Dose Flu Vaccine, and Who Can Get It? Here’s What Infectious Disease Experts Say[Internet]. Health.com; 2021 Sept 4 [cited Aug 11, 2021]. Available from: https://www.health.com/condition/flu/high-dose-flu-vaccine
  3. Tosh, Pritish K M.D. High-dose flu vaccines: How are they different from other flu vaccines? [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 2021 April 23 [cited Aug 11, 2021]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/expert-answers/fluzone/faq-20058032
  4. Why Seniors Should Get the Inactivated Influenza (Flu) Vaccine [Internet]. Health Link British Columbia. 2021 August [cited Aug 11, 2021]. Available: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/inactivated-flu-vaccine-seniors
  5. Why seniors need extra flu protection [Internet]. UCI Health. The Regents o the University of California; 2020 Jan 7 [cited Aug 11, 2021]. Available from: https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2020/01/senior-flu-shot
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