Usually, I update this article in October, which I think of as flu vaccination time.
But this is 2020 and things are different, so I am writing this in September. In particular, due to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging that people get vaccinated against influenza early in the fall (before the end of October 2020).
Vaccination against seasonal influenza has always been 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 especially 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.
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, we will also have COVID-19 to contend with. As of September 2020, at least 190,000 Americans have died of this disease. We don’t know for sure what will happen this fall, but since COVID seems to spread more when people are indoors and in proximity to the exhalations of others, COVID is likely to get worse 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. We don’t yet have a COVID vaccine, but we do have influenza vaccines.
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 2020-2021 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
(Prefer to listen to my key points about flu shots for aging adults? Click here to jump down to my subtitled audio with searchable transcript!)