What can you tell me about the flu shots designed for older adults? I got sick last winter after getting a standard flu shot and would like to find out if the senior-specific flu vaccine is worth getting.
There are actually two different types of flu shots available to people age 65 and older. These FDA-approved vaccines are designed to offer extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot provides, which is important for older adults who have weaker immune defenses and are at greater risk of developing dangerous flu complications. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that during the 2018-2019 flu season up to 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died.
You also need to be aware that these senior-specific flu shots cannot guarantee you will be flu free this season, but they may lower your risk. If you do happen to get sick, it is likely you will not get as sick as you would without it. Here is more information on the two vaccines:
Fluzone High-Dose: Approved for U.S. use in 2009, the Fluzone High-Dose 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. According to a 2013 clinical trial, this vaccine 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 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 does not recommend one vaccine over the other, and to date, there have been no studies comparing the two vaccines. You should also know that both the Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD can cause more of the mild side effects that may occur with a standard-dose flu shot, like pain or tenderness where the shot is injected, muscle aches, headaches or fatigue.
Neither vaccine is recommended for seniors who are allergic to chicken eggs or to those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past. If you are allergic to eggs, you should ask for a Flucelvax or FluBlok shot. Neither of these vaccines uses chicken eggs during the manufacturing process.
All of these vaccines are covered 100% by Medicare Part B as long as your doctor, health clinic or pharmacy does not charge you more than Medicare pays.
The CDC recommends seniors also obtain a pneumonia vaccination, especially this time of year. Around 1 million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year and approximately 50,000 people die from it.
The CDC recommends that all seniors, 65 or older, get two vaccinations: Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered just once but at different times, protect against different strains of the pneumonia bacteria to provide maximum protection.
If you have not yet received any pneumococcal vaccine you should get the Prevnar 13 first, followed by Pneumovax 23 at least one year later. But if you have already been vaccinated with Pneumovax 23, wait at least one year before getting the Prevnar 13. Medicare Part B covers both shots, if they are taken at least one year apart.
To locate a vaccination site that offers any of these shots, visit VaccineFinder.org. You can type in your location and filter the search to the specific vaccine you would like to receive.
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.