Disease Prevention Article:

Older adults should get flu shots this fall

For most people, getting the flu means a week or two of misery and a few missed days of work or school. But for older adults and those with chronic health conditions, it can be deadly.

That's why the Healthy Aging Partnership urges everyone age 50 or older to get an annual flu shot. HAP, a coalition of more than 35 Puget Sound-area not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults, says October through mid-November is the best time to be vaccinated.

Each year, approximately 114,000 Americans are hospitalized and some 36,000 die because of the flu, a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that brings on fever, muscle aches, chills, coughing and other symptoms.

While healthy people can wait until November to get their flu shots, those at risk of getting seriously ill from influenza should get their shots in October or as soon as the vaccine becomes available in their communities. HAP recommends early flu shots for those 65 or older; residents of long-term care facilities; people with diabetes, kidney disease or chronic heart and lung conditions, including asthma; and people with cancer, HIV/AIDS or weakened immune systems.

For those who worry that getting flu shots might be harmful, here are a few "flu facts":

  • The vaccine is made from killed viruses and cannot give you the flu.
  • Flu shots must be given annually because new vaccines are developed each year to fight changing viruses. While fall is optimal, January isn't too late to get protected.
  • It takes about two weeks after receiving the shot to develop immunity. There's still a slight chance of coming down with the flu since the vaccine isn't 100 percent effective, but you won't get as sick.
  • The shot is only effective against influenza, not cold and gastrointestinal viruses that can sometimes feel like the flu.
  • The vaccine is safe for most people. The risk of an allergic reaction to the vaccine is much less than the risk of dangerous complications, including pneumonia, from the flu. But don't get a shot if you're allergic to eggs, have a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome or have had reactions to flu shots in the past.
  • Always check with your doctor before getting any medical treatment, even a flu shot. You can also ask your doctor whether or not it's advisable for you to get a vaccine that helps fight pneumonia, one of the leading causes of death among older adults.

Medicare, as well as many private health insurance plans, may cover the cost of a flu shot. To find out where you can go to get low-cost flu shots, call the Healthy Aging Partnership's free and confidential help line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464). The toll-free line also offers answers to any other questions you may have about a living a healthier life as an older adult.

HAP is supported by its partner agencies and by Comprehensive Health Education Foundation and Public Health Seattle & King County.