While we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine, there is another vaccine that should be on our radar now.
It is the Fluzone high-dose flu vaccine that has been approved by the FDA for people 65 and older. It has four times the antigens (flu proteins that our immune system recognizes and attacks) than the regular flu vaccine. That is why it is called a quadrivalent vaccine: it protects against four strains of the virus.
Our health care professionals indicate that it is important for older adults to get a flu shot every year. We are more susceptible to flu complications because we may have decreased immunity that comes with aging and because we are more likely to have other coexisting conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
The medical community anticipates a wave of COVID-19 hitting in late fall, right about the same time the flu hits. Even during non-pandemic times, the flu can be deadly for our older adult population. About 90 percent of flu-related deaths and 50 – 70 percent of flu related hospitalizations occur among people over 65.
Despite the benefits of flu shots, almost a third of older adults skip their yearly flu shot. A study presented at the 2019 Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting found that vaccinated older adults reduced their risk of ending up in an ICU by 28 percent and risk of needing a ventilator by 46 percent.
While a flu shot does not completely protect us from the flu, our symptoms may not be as severe if we do get the flu. It is recommended that we get our flu shots from mid-September through mid-November. It is about hitting the sweet spot between being early enough to ensure we have enough time to build up immunity and late enough in the season to make sure immunity does not wear off by March or April.
All flu vaccines, including the high-dose vaccine recommended for us, are free with Medicare Part B. Our clinics and most pharmacies provide flu shots. It is recommended to call ahead and ask about timing and process. Health care clinics manage the social distancing and the infection control practices and procedures so well—I received my shot the same day I called and felt safe during the entire encounter, and the vaccine is documented in my medical record.
Most importantly, medical experts advise that we must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash our hands frequently to protect ourselves from both the flu and COVID-19.
Ann Bussey lives in Side Lake. This article was adapted from a daily healthy aging email Ann writes for the Mesabi Family YMCA senior members intended to sustain hope, health, and wellbeing during the pandemic.