Flu Shots for Seniors


What can you tell me about the flu shots for seniors? I became ill last winter after getting a standard flu shot and am wondering if there is a flu vaccine for older adults that would provide better protection this year.

There are actually two different types of flu shots designed specifically for people age 65 and older: the Fluzone High Dose and FLUAD. 

These FDA approved vaccines are designed to offer extra protection beyond a standard flu shot. This is important for older adults who have weaker immune defenses and greater risk of developing flu complications. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills approximately 24,000 people. Eighty percent of those who die from flu complications are seniors. 

While these senior-specific flu shots cannot guarantee that you may avoid the flu this season, they will lower your risk. Here is more information about these two vaccines:

Fluzone High-Dose: Approved for U.S. use in 2009, the Fluzone High-Dose (see Fluzone.com) is a high-potency vaccine that contains four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. This vaccine, according to a 2013 clinical trial, was 24% more effective than the regular-dose shot at preventing flu in seniors.

FLUAD: Available in the U.S. since 2016, the FLUAD vaccine (FLUAD.com) contains an added ingredient called Adjuvant MF59 that also helps create a stronger immune response. In a 2012 Canadian observational study, FLUAD was 63% more effective than a regular flu shot.

The CDC, however, does not recommend one vaccination over the other and, to date, there have not been any studies that have compared the two vaccines.

You should also know that both the Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD can increase the mild side effects that can occur with a standard-dose flu shot, such as pain or tenderness at the injection site, muscle aches, headache or fatigue. Neither vaccine is recommended for seniors who are allergic to chicken eggs or those who have had severe reactions to flu vaccines in the past. 

Both vaccines are covered 100% by Medicare Part B, as long as your doctor, health clinic or pharmacy agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays. 

Pneumonia Vaccines

The other vaccinations the CDC recommends to seniors, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. Around 1 million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year and about 50,000 people die from it.

The CDC is recommending that all seniors, age 65 or older, get two vaccinations: Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered at different times, work in different ways to provide maximum protection. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are taken at least one year apart.

If you have not received any pneumococcal vaccine you should get the Prevnar 13 first, followed by Pneumovax 23 six to 12 months later. However, if you have already received the Pneumovax 23 vaccine, wait at least one year before getting the Prevnar 13. 

To locate a vaccination site that offers any of these shots, visit Vaccines.gov and type in your ZIP code.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.


Published October 13, 2017

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