For many people, the prospect of a jab from sharp needle can be unnerving. But a flu shot is a sound recommendation for nearly all people who are able to obtain it.

That recommendation is even stronger for the elderly. Seniors may be more susceptible to illness, or the effects of illness. Anyone who is debating whether seniors should get the annual flu injection should realize that preventative steps to give the immune system extra support against infection can help avoid more serious health complications that in the elderly can lead to hospitalisation, or even death.

Why seniors are particularly at risk

The flu can be debilitating to anyone who succumbs to the infection, but it’s a particularly risky virus for those older than 65. That’s because a human’s immune system weakens with age, leaving the virus to have a stronger impact on the elderly, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC review of flu fatalities found that between 80 and 90 percent of those deaths were patients 65 and older. Also, 50 to 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations involved people in that older age group.
Influenza Specialist Group, a not-for-profit organization comprised of healthcare and scientific professionals in Australia, supports vaccination for anyone older than 6 months of age. The group also notes that adults older than 65 are among the risk groups identified by the government as such, they are eligible for free flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program. In vulnerable groups, including seniors, influenza can lead to complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, notes the Senior Living Blog.

Get a flu shot every year

The flu vaccine has its critics, and not just because of a fear of needles. Some people believe, mistakenly, that they can the flu from the vaccine. But that cannot happen because the virus present in the vaccine itself is inactivated and not infectious, the Senior Living Blog says. Other people argue that it’s still possible to get the flu even after being vaccinated, and that’s true. The flu is a virus and viruses mutate. Each season, vaccine makers develop a new vaccine that addresses the flu strains that they believe will be most prevalent in the coming year, explains the Senior Living Blog.
Those who received a flu shot last year should strongly consider getting a shot this year. Even though it’s possible to be infected by a strain different than the one that the vaccine was developed to fight, that vaccine could still help. The CDC notes that the antibodies that the body produces in response to a vaccine could offer some protection against related viruses.

The broader benefits of vaccines

In order to give seniors an extra boost of flu protection, some people have advocated for a high-dose vaccine. The belief is that by dosing the patient with more of the component of the vaccine that prompts an immune response, the body will produce more antibodies to provide immunity. The health community’s thinking on higher doses of vaccines is not clear. There is not yet much validated evidence about these higher doses of vaccine because these higher doses have not been tested in older adults in randomised, controlled clinical trials, Lisa Jackson, senior investigator for immunisations at Group Health Research Institute told The New York Times.

However, the health community is in agreement that the benefits of vaccination go beyond the vaccinated individual. An unvaccinated person becomes a carrier who can pass the flu on to others. Vaccination can help prevent that from happening, the CDC explains. For that reason, it’s also important for caregivers and loved ones to also become vaccinated. Vaccinations protect individuals, as well as the people around them.

Many nursing homes and Retirement Living Villages often encourage flu injections as common practice. Have your say – what happen’s in your community?

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