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Senior Flu Shot: What You Need to Know

Written by Nirali Desai
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated October 3, 2021

Each fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges Americans to get the influenza vaccine. If your loved one is 65 or older, getting a flu shot is especially important. Older adults with underlying conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, are at increased risk of developing complications from the flu.

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Older adults are at high risk for life-threatening complications from the flu, including hospitalizations and death. The CDC estimates the flu causes 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. The CDC also estimates up to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations and 85% of deaths associated with the flu occur in seniors age 65 and older.
Ensuring your senior loved one is protected against the flu can help prevent flu-related complications and hospitalizations. Learn about the different types of senior flu shots, their effectiveness, possible side effects, and how they can prevent flu-related complications.

What is the senior flu shot?

The senior flu shot is a vaccine developed specifically for adults age 65 and older to protect them against the flu virus. According to the CDC, seniors need stronger protection because immune systems tend to weaken with age, putting older adults at an increased risk of serious flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, other respiratory problems, hospitalizations, and even death. The flu can also worsen chronic conditions that are common in seniors — like diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The senior flu shot creates a stronger immune response that helps older adults’ immune systems fight the flu virus more effectively than the regular flu shot. The vaccine works by stimulating the production of antibodies that protect seniors against the virus.
While older adults may get any flu vaccine approved for their age group, two flu vaccines were developed specifically for seniors: the high-dose flu vaccine and the adjuvanted flu vaccine.

Senior flu shot types

The following flu vaccines are recommended for adults 65 and older only. Talk to your doctor about which senior flu shot is right for your loved one.
  • Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent (brand name: Fluzone High-Dose) is a vaccine made up of four different flu strains likely to cause the flu in the upcoming season. The higher dose of flu virus antigen in the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine stimulates a stronger immune response, making it more effective in preventing the flu in seniors than other regular flu vaccines. One study comparing it to the standard flu vaccine also showed the higher-dose vaccine can reduce the need for respiratory-related hospitalizations.
  • Adjuvanted flu vaccine (brand name: Fluad) contains an additive called an adjuvant. The adjuvant in this vaccine is made with aluminum salts and stimulates a stronger immune response when compared to other standard flu vaccines. This vaccine is usually made up of three different strains of the flu, like other standard flu vaccines, but a quadrivalent adjuvanted vaccine is also available now.

How effective is the flu shot for seniors?

The flu vaccine is not 100% effective, but it’s still one of the best ways to prevent the flu, according to the CDC. The regular flu vaccine seems to be less effective in seniors than it is in younger adults. However, PubMed studies have found the high-dose senior flu shot better protects older adults against the flu when compared with the standard flu vaccine.
Getting vaccinated also seems to reduce the severity of illness for people who get sick with the flu, according to the CDC. In fact, researchers have found that flu vaccinations in recent years have reduced the need for flu-related hospitalizations among older adults by 40%.

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Senior flu shot side effects

The senior flu shot is considered safe, but it may cause mild side effects related to inflammation and the body’s immune response. During the week after getting the vaccine, seniors may experience the following symptoms:
  • Soreness, tenderness, redness, or swelling at the injection site
  • Headache or muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
According to the CDC, you should check with the doctor before getting your loved one a senior flu shot if they have one of the following conditions or reactions:
  • An allergy to any of the vaccine ingredients, other than eggs
  • A serious auto-immune disorder, e.g., Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • A fever
  • An allergic reaction to the flu shot in the past

Can seniors get a COVID-19 vaccine, booster, and flu shot?

COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots may cause side effects similar to senior flu shots. According to the CDC, both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine or booster can be given at the same time. Studies show that receiving both vaccines together may slightly increase a person’s risk of mild side effects, such as muscle ache, headache, and fatigue. Consult your loved one’s doctor to figure out what could work best for them.

Where can seniors get a flu shot?

Several locations offer senior flu shots, including doctor’s offices, local health departments, and pharmacies.
You may be worried about taking your senior relative to get a flu shot this year if COVID-19 is still spreading in your community. However, the CDC says it’s especially important for seniors and others who are at increased risk for flu complications to get vaccinated.
There are certain steps your loved one can take to stay safe when going to get the flu shot:
  • Call ahead and ask the doctor or pharmacist if they’re following the CDC’s pandemic guidance.
  • Wear a mask to the vaccine appointment.
  • If your loved one has a fever, hold off on vaccinating them until they’re feeling better.
  • Wash hands frequently using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
View CDC guidelines for more information on protecting yourself and senior relatives from the seasonal flu as well as COVID-19.

When is the best time to get a flu shot?

It’s best to get vaccinated before the flu begins to spread in your community. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop after getting the flu shot.
However, getting vaccinated too early, like in the summer, may reduce protection against the flu virus. This is why the CDC recommends getting the flu shot early in the fall, right before the flu season begins. Plan to take your aging loved one to get a senior flu shot by the end of October.
Although getting a senior flu shot is a great way to help prevent the flu, also encourage your aging loved one to take these steps to stay healthy:
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Pay attention to symptoms, such as a fever, chills, sore throat, body aches, and cough.
  • Practice healthy habits to support immune health and prevent disease.
  • Eat a balanced diet, stay physically active, manage stress, and get plenty of rest.
Original article by OurParents senior content strategist Angelike Gaunt.

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Meet the Author
Nirali Desai

Nirali Desai is a copywriter at OurParents. She focuses on life enrichment opportunities and memory care. Previously, Nirali worked in social media and marketing, edited a regional senior magazine, and wrote for the American Red Cross. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.

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