Should Seniors Get the Flu Shot?

Affecting roughly 8% of the U.S. adult population, the flu is a common infectious illness that’s characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, headache, runny nose, coughing and muscle aches. Each year, it’s responsible for an estimated 12,000 to 61,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is that there are vaccines available to protect against the flu. Being that vaccines often have unwanted side effects, though, you might be wondering whether they are safe for a senior.

What Is the Flu Shot?

Also known as the flu jab or influenza vaccine, the flu shot is a vaccine that’s designed to protect against infections of the flu virus. When administered — typically via injection or nasal spray — it activates the senior’s immune system to create flu-fighting antibodies. As a result, exposure to the flu virus may not lead to a full-blown infection. With the newly produced antibodies, the senior’s immune system can neutralize the flu virus before it’s allowed to spread.

How Effective Is the Flu Shot?

Unfortunately, the flu shot isn’t a foolproof solution to prevent infection. The CDC says that people who get the flu shot are about 40% to 60% less likely to catch the flu than their counterparts who skip vaccination.

The problem with the flu shot is that it doesn’t cover all strains of the flu virus. There are many different strains of the flu virus, also known as the influenza virus, and some of them mutate on a regular basis. When creating the flu shot, medical researchers try to target some of the most common strains expected for the upcoming flu season.

The Risks of a Flu Infection for Seniors

The flu is a serious infectious illness that causes more than just discomfort; it poses a risk of death, especially in seniors with a weakened immune system and/or existing medical conditions. Younger adults often recover from the flu without issue. For seniors, though, the flu is a different story.

According to AARP, roughly four in five flu-related deaths in the United States involve seniors. Seniors are more likely to catch the flu than younger adults because of their weakened immune systems. As we age, our bodies become less effective at defending against infectious illnesses. A senior’s weakened immune system may struggle to neutralize the flu virus, and if not neutralized, the virus will spread to create a full-blown infection.

Furthermore, the flu virus is extremely taxing on a senior’s body. During a full-blown infection, the flu virus may spread into a senior’s lungs, potentially leading to bacterial pneumonia. Pneumonia itself can be fatal in seniors, let alone the other complications associated with the flu virus.

Yes, Seniors Should Get the Flu Shot

With seniors having the greatest risk of experience complications, they should typically get the flu shot unless otherwise directed by their physician. The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months to get a flu shot, and seniors are no exception.

For seniors, the CDC recommends a special high-dose flu shot rather than the standard flu shot. The high-dose flu shot lives up to its namesake by containing roughly four times more of the inactivated flu virus than the standard flu shot.

All flu shots contain samples of the flu virus for which they are designed. The high-dose flu shot, however, contains a larger amount of these samples, resulting in a higher level of protection. According to the CDC, seniors who get the high-dose flu shot are about one-quarter less likely to catch the flu than those who get the standard flu shot.

Of course, flu shots are typically only effective for a year, at which point new flu strains will have emerged. For maximum protection against the flu, seniors should get a flu shot once a year.

Don’t Forget Other Preventative Measures

Seniors shouldn’t rely exclusively on the flu shot to protect against the flu virus. Although it can reduce the risk of infection, it’s not a completely effective safeguard. Therefore, seniors should include other preventative measures in their daily activities to minimize their risk of catching the flu.

Hand washing, for instance, is essential for protecting against infectious illnesses, including the flu. Seniors should get into the habit of washing their hands with warm water and soap after touching surfaces, touching their body or eating or drinking.

Embracing a healthy and well-balanced diet can help protect seniors from the flu. Nutrition, of course, influences the strength of a senior’s immune system. Seniors who eat healthy and nutritious foods will have a stronger immune system that’s better equipped to defend against the flu virus.

Finally, seniors should avoid contact with individuals who are exhibiting systems of the flu. It only takes a single instance of exposure to trigger an infection. By avoiding infected individuals, seniors themselves can avoid infection.

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