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US public health policy recommends that all older adults get an annual flu shot. The shot is particularly important for seniors, who usually have weaker immune systems than the younger population. Their risk hospitalization and death from flu or from resulting pneumonia infections is significantly higher than it is for younger people.
The flu season is usually strongest around January and February. However, you should get the 2011-2012 vaccine as soon as it’s available where you live—this will give you protection throughout the duration of the season. And the good news is that there are several new options for the flu shot this year—including a “painless” shot for those who hate needles. Here’s an overview.
Vaccination is key to preventing the flu. But it doesn’t work on everyone
This is the standard. In general, it tends to be the cheapest version, and it’s uniformly given to older adults, young children, and everyone in between. This year, the shot is designed to target the same three strains of the flu as the vaccine from 2010-2011. This includes the swine flu strain from 2009, which public health personnel predict will be common again this year. If you got the flu shot last year, experts suggest you get the shot again this year, as immunity from a vaccine will wear off over the period of a year.
This shot contains less flu vaccine antigen than the regular shot. It’s also significantly less painful; while the regular flu shot is injected into a muscle, FluZone Intradermal is injected under the skin using a smaller, finer needle that barely pricks the skin—a “micro-injection.”
The injection goes between fine layers of skin—and the method of delivery produces an equivalent response to the standard shot. The difference is that it includes 40% less active ingredient. This will be good news if there’s a flu shot shortage.
It’s ideal for adults who are a bit needle-shy, but who can’t get FluMist for a variety of reasons. It’s safe for any adult between the ages of 18 and 64.
This shot is designed for adults 65 years old and up. Seniors tend to have weaker immune systems, and this flu vaccine has four times more antigen than a regular flu shot. In recent studies, it’s been shown to trigger a considerably stronger immune response in older immune systems than the regular shot. It has no unique safety concerns, although patients sometimes find added soreness at the injection spot. It also costs more—it’s listed as $25, while the regular vaccine costs about $11. However, both are covered under Medicare Part B—without a copayment.
FluMist is a nasal spray. With FluMist, you spray live flu vaccine into your nose, and the antigens pass through your mucus membranes and into your blood stream. It’s ideal for people who want to avoid needles at all costs, but it does come with some disadvantages. First, it’s currently only available for people under age 50. Second, you must have no chronic medical problems that might put you at risk of severe flu infections—such as asthma, immune system issues, cancer, AIDS, or diabetes. You also can’t be on immunosuppression drugs. Third, it’s generally more expensive than the regular vaccine.
Vaccination is key to preventing the flu. But it doesn’t work on everyone—even if you get the vaccine, there’s still a chance you’ll get sick. But it will be a much smaller chance than if you didn’t get immunized. In addition, you can transmit the flu to others; getting vaccinated ensures that you don’t infect grandchildren, family members, friends, colleagues, and other people in your community. Finally, even if you do get vaccinated, it’s smart to wash your hands frequently—this will lower your exposure to flu germs.