It’s that time of the year: October, which I think of as flu vaccination time.
I always think getting a flu vaccine is a good idea for most older adults. In these COVID pandemic times, I think it’s even more important. So I agree with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is urging that people get vaccinated against influenza early in the fall (before the end of October 2021).
Now, vaccination against seasonal influenza can seem like a bit of a tricky topic. Many older adults are skeptical of the need to get a yearly vaccination against influenza. They aren’t sure it will help. Or they think that the vaccination will actually give them a mild case of the flu. Or they just don’t like needles.
Or maybe they aren’t sure which type of seasonal flu shot to get: the regular one or one of the newer “stronger” versions, designed for older adults?
And now that we have COVID-19 to contend with, vaccination for seasonal influenza might feel even more confusing for people.
Don’t let yourself be confused. In this article, I will share with you what I know about influenza vaccination and what I’ve learned about influenza in COVID times. I also have updates on the newest high-dose vaccines available for older adults.
But let me share the bottom line with you right now. In general, I have always supported the CDC’s usual recommendation that everyone over the age of 6 months should get their seasonal flu shot.
This year, I agree with the CDC that it’s important for people to get their seasonal flu shot, as soon as you can, and if you are an older adult, I recommend getting one of the higher-dose vaccines.
Note: If you are age 65 or older and it’s been more than 6 months since you were vaccinated, you may be able to get your COVID booster shot at the same time. (For more on COVID vaccination, see COVID Vaccination for Aging Adults: What to Know & Do.)
In “normal” pre-COVID times, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that every year, influenza affects 9-45 million Americans, causes 140,000-810,100 hospitalizations, and results in 12,000-61,000 deaths. In most years, influenza vaccination does help reduce hospitalizations and deaths (I go into details below).
And now this fall, this is our second winter dealing with COVID-19 as well. As of October 2021, at least 700,000 Americans have died of this disease. We don’t know for sure what will happen this fall, now that we have COVID vaccines, but since COVID seems to spread more when people are indoors and in proximity to the exhalations of others, it’s certainly possible that COVID could get worse again this fall.
So this year, more than ever, it’s important to do what you can to reduce respiratory illness, to protect yourself, and to protect others. And getting vaccinated against influenza is one of the things we can do.
In fact, I’m about to go get mine. As a healthy woman in her 40s, I’m not that concerned about getting dangerously ill from influenza. Instead, I get my annual flu shot because I want to minimize my chance of getting sick and perhaps exposing my older patients to influenza.
Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:
- The basics of influenza and vaccination against the flu
- What we know about influenza and COVID-19
- What to know about flu shots for older adults
- What’s new and resources for the 2021-2022 flu season
- Which influenza vaccination is probably best for most older adults
- What to do if your older parent or relative is unwilling or unable to get vaccinated
- Whether it’s more important to get a flu shot or a COVID vaccination (or a booster)