It’s Time for Shots!

close-up of senior man getting a shot in a doctor's office

If the pumpkins are showing their faces, it’s that time of year – time for shots! Here’s a Halloween scary fact from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): more seniors die every year from the flu or pneumonia than from car accidents. According to the CDC, both diseases combine to rank seventh on the list of leading causes of death among those over 65 years of age. The good news is that vaccines are developed and available every year to minimize the risk for contracting these diseases. Medicare covers a part of the cost of these vaccinations, so there is no excuse for seniors not to roll up their sleeves to get protected from these preventable diseases.

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a highly contagious virus that causes infection in the nose, throat, and lungs. It can last for three to seven days, but symptoms, including fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, cough, and headache, may persist for up to two weeks. These symptoms can cause serious illness, including respiratory infections. They can also put a senior at risk for dehydration, falls and weakness. These risks are compounded for seniors with other chronic health problems.

Then why do some seniors resist getting the flu shot? Many worry that they may actually contract the flu from the shot itself. This is a myth as the flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can’t transmit infection. So if a person gets sick after receiving a flu vaccination, they were going to get sick anyway. It takes almost a full week or two to get protection from the vaccine. But many people falsely assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the shot caused their illness.

Another common myth among older people is that they believe they can’t catch the flu if they are not out in cold winter weather. Although flu season typically runs from November through March, it is transmitted by being in contact with the influenza virus, not cold weather conditions. Interestingly, approximately 20% to 30% of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms and can expose others to the virus. This is why it is highly recommended that all healthcare workers or those who care for the elderly have their flu shots. Along with vaccinations, frequent hand washing will also help decrease your chance of exposure. Recent studies also show that a new high-dose flu vaccine has been developed and is proving much more effective in older populations. With aging, the immune system weakens so the higher dose is adding more protection to boost the immune system. 

There are, of course, those who should not get the flu shot. The source of flu vaccines come from chickens and so vaccines can be dangerous to people who are allergic to eggs. Also, if a person has ever had a history of exposure to a rare virus called Gullian Barre, the flu shot is contraindicated. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider now about what vaccinations you should receive and roll up your sleeve and get protected.

Written by Anne Sansevero

Categories: Senior Health