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More benefits to annual flu shots

Created date

July 23rd, 2018
Dr. Narrett leads the medical team at all Erickson Living communities

Dr. Matt Narrett is Erickson Living's Chief Medical Officer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is gearing up for this year’s flu season, which typically begins in October, peaks in February, and starts tapering off in March.

Research shows us that people age 65 and older bear the brunt of flu-related complications, hospitalizations, and deaths. The CDC estimates up to 75% of people with flu-related hospitalizations and up to 85% of flu-related deaths occur among seniors. You may be healthy and active, but if you are over 65, your immune system is less robust. Add the presence of chronic conditions and certain medications, and you become increasingly vulnerable to infection.

Numerous studies have been conducted in an effort to improve vaccines for seniors and reduce the toll taken on them from this all-too-common illness. One result has been the development of the high-dose flu vaccine. It has been available since 2009, and the most recent data show that people who received it had 24% fewer flu infections compared to people who had received the standard vaccine. Scientists have also recently developed an adjuvant flu vaccine, which contains an extra ingredient designed to enhance your immune response. Studies show that this type of vaccine is more effective than a standard flu shot but it can be associated with more local side effects such as redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site.

Consistency has impact

While the flu shot in 2017 was not very effective, a new study shows us that the standard flu vaccine may be more effective than we previously thought—provided you receive it consistently year after year. The researchers examined seniors who had received a flu vaccine both in the current season and for the prior three seasons, as well as seniors who had not been vaccinated in previous years but who had received the vaccine only in the current season. They focused on people admitted to the hospital for flu and found that people who had regular flu shots over the years were half as likely to have severe flu outcomes (related infections such as pneumonia and death) than people who hadn’t consistently been vaccinated.

Being vaccinated each year, every year, and receiving highly effective vaccines is still only part of your prevention plan. Nothing is foolproof, and vaccines take two weeks to reach their maximum effectiveness; thus, you should continue to wash your hands well, avoid crowds if possible, eat well, be active, and get adequate sleep in order to further reduce your chances of infection. In any case, if you think you have contracted the flu, call your doctor’s office right away. You may be a candidate for antiviral medication, which may help lessen your symptoms.


In good health,

Dr. Narrett