It is that time of the year when thoughts run to flu shots. This year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is encouraging seniors (and everyone over the age of six) to get vaccinated early against influenza. Some seniors remain skeptical of the need for the annual shot, while others fear the vaccine will give them the flu. Other, still questions which inoculation they should get given the new improved versions available today.
Before COVID-19 and the new “normal,” the CDC estimated up to 45 million Americans were effected by the flu annually with up to 810,000 hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths each year. Generally, the flu shot reduces these numbers. Of course, this year, along with the potential for influenza, is the threat of COVID-19 infection. While a COVID-19 vaccine is in the works, the flu vaccine is available and proven effective.
As you may already know influenza, or the flu, is the result of infection by one of two respiratory viruses – influenza A or influenza B. Flu symptoms include stuffy nose, fever, sore throat, cough, and body aches. For most people, the flu presents with symptoms similar to a bad cold with those infected by it recovering over a period of around seven days. The peak of influenza activity is winter – between December and February, in North America.
In the event of influenza infection with complications, more serious health issues may arise, particularly for those who are older, are immunocompromised, or have chronic health problems. Pneumonia is the most common of these complications but worsening of heart and lung conditions may also occur.
Guarding Against Influenza
The flu vaccination works much like other vaccines, stimulating the body in the production of antibodies to combat the strains of influenza included in the vaccine. At approximately two weeks after the vaccination, the body is able to create the needed influenza antibodies needed to fight off an influenza infection. The challenge with influenza is both strains are continually evolving into new, unique strains which means researchers must develop annual influenza vaccines based on predictions of developing strains. In some instances, this works well and the annual influenza vaccination will have a greater effectiveness. When this occurs, the flu shot can reduce the risk of flu by up to 60 percent. In other years, the strains are different than the ones anticipated resulting a year with more illnesses and hospitalizations reported.
Each year sees the advent of multiple flu vaccines including trivalent flu vaccines (protecting against two influenza A strains and one influenza B strain) and quadrivalent flu vaccines (protecting against two strains of both influenza A and B) as well as standard dose vaccines and high dose vaccines and those with an additive (adjuvant) to enhance the immune system response.
Answers to Common Flu Shot Concerns
Among the most common concerns is the question of whether someone can get the flu from the flu shot. The answer is no, the flu vaccine is made with an inactivated virus which cannot give you influenza.
Next, comes the question of side effects form the flu shot. The most common side effect is redness at the sight of the injection and a sore arm. Body aches, fever, or a cough have also been reported after a flu shot. Serious negative side effects from the flu vaccine are rare.
Advice for Seniors
Seniors can best protect themselves from the influenza virus by getting the flu shot and minimizing their exposure to people who may be infected. Avoiding infected people, cleaning household surfaces regularly, and washing hands often can help reduce the risk of infection. In addition, seniors should also consider the pneumococcal vaccination to help reduce the risk of complication from influenza and bacterial pneumonia.