Getting a flu vaccine is always the first, best step in staying healthy through the prolonged flu season, which begins in the fall and can last well into spring. It’s even more important this year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as health experts caution that it is possible have flu and COVID at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this can be, but both can both result in serious illness and increased strain on the respiratory system.
The vaccine not only protects you, but also the people around you from flu. Flu vaccination is especially important for adults 65 years and older, who account for most hospitalizations and deaths from flu and from COVID-19.
Healthcare specialists at Belmont Village agree that flu vaccines are critically important. “Vaccination is always your best defense, especially this year,” says Sheri Easton-Garrett, MSN, RN, CDP, Senior Vice President of Clinical Services for Belmont Village. “What is most important to remember about the flu is that the virus changes every year.”
That means even if you were vaccinated last season, you still need to be vaccinated again with the new inoculation for this flu season. And now is the right time to get the vaccine, which will boost your immune response to this season’s most prevalent strains of the virus.
Here are some important points to remember about flu and the vaccine:
- People 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu. While flu seasons can vary in severity, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. In recent years, for example, it’s estimated that 70 – 80% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older. In addition, 54 – 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group. So influenza can be quite serious for people 65 and older.
- A flu vaccine is the best protection against flu. Flu vaccines are updated each year as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Immunity also wanes over a year so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against influenza.
- Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce flu illnesses and more serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death in older people. For example, a 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.
- Flu shots are safe and do not cause the flu. Side effects of flu shots are mild (soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given), especially when compared to the disease itself.
“We offer the vaccine to all of our residents. Adults 65 and over need the flu shot – to protect themselves and their friends and neighbors,” says Easton-Garrett.
Belmont also offers flu shots to employees at no cost. “We have a robust influenza program, which not only promotes influenza vaccination among our residents but requires it of our employees as well,” Sheri explains. “We provide education on the importance of the vaccine, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette, and of course our COVID safety protocols are in place in all of our communities, which will also provide protection against the flu.”
People 65 years and older should get a flu shot and not a nasal spray vaccine. There are two types of flu shot recommended for seniors: high dose and adjuvanted. These vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots. (More information about the two kinds of flu shots is available from the CDC.)
If you get sick with flu symptoms, see a doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends prompt treatment for people who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection and who are at high risk for serious flu complications – particularly people 65 years and older.
For more information about influenza and the vaccine options, visit the CDC’s website