Why the Flu Shot is Truly Important

Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness and severity that can result in hospitalization or even death in older people.

Helpful Highlights

  • The flu vaccine cannot give someone flu and doesn't increase the risk of COVID-19.

  • Flu vaccination can keep your loved one from getting sick with flu and has been shown to reduce the severity of illness in people who are vaccinated but still get sick.

  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization.

  • Your loved one getting vaccinated may also protect others (you, other friends and family members, especially children).

  • It is best to get the flu vaccination between September and October every year.

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Flu is more dangerous for older adults

Seasonal flu affects individuals 65 or older much more than others, accounting for 70% to 85% of deaths from the disease and 50% to 70% of hospitalizations.

The immune system weakens as we age. While an older adult's body is busy fighting off flu, they might pick up a secondary infection such as a sinus or ear infection, or worse - pneumonia. Older adults are also more likely to have other health conditions that increase their risk of complications from flu.

People aged 65 years and older are at increased risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death from flu.

An annual flu vaccine is the best way for your loved one to reduce their risk of flu and its potentially serious consequences. Even if your loved one does get sick with flu, a flu shot can make their illness less severe. Flu vaccination can:

  • Shorten the length of a flu hospital stay.

  • Reduce the risk of ICU admission from flu.

  • Reduce the risk of death from flu.

Chronic medical conditions also increase the risk of flu complications. Anyone with a chronic medical condition should get vaccinated, especially those living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. Examples of chronic conditions that can worsen flu complications are:

  • Lung disease (like asthma or COPD)

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Brain or nervous system conditions

  • HIV or other immunocompromising conditions

  • Kidney or liver disease

  • Obesity

  • Cancer or cancer treatment

Effectiveness

Every year the CDC (and others) determines how well flu vaccines protect against flu. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of morbidity (suffering) and mortality (death) from flu illness by 40% to 60% during seasons when flu vaccines match circulating flu viruses.

It has also been recommended that adults 65 and older receive a higher dose of adjuvanted flu vaccine versus a standard dose of unadjuvanted flu vaccine.

  • Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent (inactivated influenza vaccine [IIV4-HD])

  • Flublok Quadrivalent (recombinant influenza vaccine [RIV4])

  • Fluad Quadrivalent (adjuvanted inactivated influenza vaccine quadrivalent [aIIV4]

If high-dose or adjuvanted vaccines aren’t available, however, a standard seasonal influenza vaccine is still highly recommended.

Despite the many benefits offered by flu vaccination, only about half of Americans get an annual flu vaccine. During an average flu season, flu can cause millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths. Many more people could be protected from the flu if more people got vaccinated.

Flu vaccination myth

The flu vaccine cannot give someone the flu. It also does not increase the risk of COVID-19. The development of flu-like symptoms following flu vaccination can happen for a few reasons:

  • The person is already sick with flu (or other illness) but not showing symptoms

  • Vaccination reaction

  • Coincidence - catching flu before the vaccine takes full effect (about 2 weeks from injection)

  • Mismatched flu vaccine and flu viruses (the vaccine is less effective that year)

  • Catching other illnesses that look like flu but aren't

Stop the spread

The single best way to prevent flu is frequent handwashing, staying hydrated and eating well, and avoiding people who are sick.

The single best way to reduce the risk of flu and possibly serious complications is to get the flu shot every year.

A note for you, the caregiver: Younger populations that do not get vaccinated increase the likelihood of circulating flu viruses, and thus secondary exposure for older adults. You should get your flu shot, as well!

RESOURCES

CDC - Flu Vaccination Benefits

CDC - Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

CDC - People 65 Years and Older Need a Flu Shot

Kuehn, B.M. (2022, August 09). More effective flu vaccines recommended for older adults. JAMA, 328(6), 519. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2022.12520

Mayo Clinic

National Council on Aging (NCOA)

National Institute on Aging

Smetana, J., Chlibek, R., Shaw, J., Splino, M., & Prymula, R. (2018). Influenza vaccination in the elderly. Human Vaccines and Immunotherapies, 14(3), 540-549. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2017.1343226

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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