Flu Vaccines for Older Adults
There are three different types of flu shots that the CDC recommends for people aged 65 and older. These FDA-approved annual vaccines are designed to offer more protection than the standard flu shot, which may be important for older adults who have weaker immune defenses and those who may be at a greater risk of developing dangerous flu complications.
Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent: Approved in 2009 for use in the United States, the Fluzone High-Dose is a high-potency vaccine that contains four times the number of antigens as a regular flu shot, which creates a stronger immune response and results in better protection. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Fluzone High-Dose proved to be 24% more effective at preventing the flu in seniors than the regular dose.
Fluad Quadrivalent: Available in the United States as of 2016, this vaccine contains an added ingredient called adjuvant MF59, which helps create a stronger immune response. In a 2013 observational study, Fluad was 51% more effective in preventing flu-related hospitalizations for older patients than a standard flu shot.
Please note that both the Fluzone High-Dose and Fluad vaccines can cause more mild side effects than the standard-dose flu shot, including pain or tenderness at the injection site, muscle aches, headache or fatigue. Neither vaccine is recommended for seniors who are allergic to chicken eggs, or who have had severe reactions to a flu vaccine in the past.
The CDC does not recommend one vaccination over the other. Please talk to your healthcare professional to determine which vaccine is best for you.
FluBlok Quadrivalent: An alternative vaccine for individuals with egg allergies is FluBlok Quadrivalent, a vaccine that does not use chicken eggs in their manufacturing process. This vaccine was 30% more effective than a standard-dose influenza vaccine in preventing flu in people aged 50 and older in a clinic study.
All the above-mentioned vaccines are generally covered by Medicare Part B, but subject to Medicare payment limitations.
Other important vaccinations recommended to older adults by the CDC, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. Around 1.5 million Americans visit medical emergency departments each year because of pneumonia, and about 50,000 people pass away from contracting pneumonia.
The CDC recently updated their recommendations for the pneumococcal vaccine and recommends that that individuals ages 65 and older who have not previously received any pneumococcal vaccine should get PCV20 (Prevnar 20) or PCV15 (Vaxneuvance). If PCV15 is used, it should be followed by dose of PPSV23 (Pneumovax23) at least one year later.
Alternatively, if you have already received a PPSV23 shot, you should get one dose of PCV15 or PCV20 at least one year later.
Medicare Part B also covers the two pneumococcal shots – the first shot at any time and a different, second shot if it is administered at least one year after the first shot.
If you have not already done so, you may also be a candidate to receive a COVID-19 booster shot this fall. Both Moderna and Pfizer have developed new bivalent booster vaccines that adds an Omicron BA 4/5 component to the old formula, providing better protection.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.