It’s October, which means it’s that time of the year again: flu vaccination time!
Back when I worked in a primary care clinic, this is when we made a big push to offer the seasonal flu shot to all of our patients. (And we got ourselves immunized, as well.)
Not all of our patients agreed. 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?
I’m never surprised when people bring up these questions. Vaccination for seasonal influenza can indeed be a confusing topic.
But it’s certainly important to consider. Depending on the year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that every year, influenza affects 9-60 million Americans, causes 140,000-710,100 hospitalizations, and results in 12,000-56,000 deaths.
Influenza is more severe in some years than others. For instance, the 2017-2018 season was particularly severe, with an estimated 80,000 deaths related to the flu. The 2018-2019 season wasn’t as bad, but still had a real impact: the CDC estimates that there were 37.4 million to 42.9 million flu illnesses last year, causing an estimated 36,400 – 61,200 flu deaths.
Now, most people get better without needing hospitalization, but some people get very sick. Older adults are especially likely to get dangerously ill from catching the flu.
So I agree with the CDC’s recommendation: everyone over the age of 6 months should get their seasonal flu shot.
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.
This month, you’ll probably be encouraged to get vaccinated too. So in this article, I’ll address some key things to know about influenza and the flu shot, along with some common questions and concerns. Here’s what I’ll cover:
- The basics of influenza and vaccination against the flu
- What to know about flu shots for older adults
- What’s new and resources for the 2019-2020 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