Health Info & Resources for Seniors
Older adults are more susceptible to getting both the flu and COVID 19 — as well as developing serious complications from these diseases — than younger people. Consequently, geriatric medicine specialist, Roopa Anmolsingh, MD, urges seniors to get a flu shot this fall. “The latest recommendation is to get the vaccine in mid-to-late October in order to have more prolonged immunity through April,” said Dr. Anmolsingh, of St.
Luke’s Senior Care Associates.
“In doing so, at least one of these two potential respiratory infections can be blunted. In this year, it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot,” said Dr. Anmolsingh. “Both diseases take a toll on the lungs and weaken the immune system, making people more vulnerable to developing life-threatening complications, such as respiratory, thromboembolic, inflammatory, and cardiovascular complications. Although we can’t be sure what effect having both the flu and COVID will have, we suspect that it can result in more complications, and even deaths.”
Meanwhile, eight-out-of-10 COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. have been among adults aged 65 years and older. Both illnesses have similar symptoms, including fever, cough, difficulty breathing, tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, and muscle ache. This makes arriving at a definitive diagnosis difficult. While there is no vaccine as yet for COVID, the yearly influenza vaccine protects against the flu viruses that will be most common during the upcoming season. The vaccines contain an inactivated virus, called antigens, that promotes the body’s protective response. Immunity resulting from vaccination sets in after about two weeks. Medicare covers the cost of yearly influenza vaccination with no deductible or co-pay. Therefore, if you get your flu shot from a health provider that accepts Medicare payment, there should be no cost to you. So, encourage your parents, siblings, and friends to get their vaccines, too. Two vaccines are designed specifically for people 65+: High Dose Flu Vaccine (brand name Fluzone High Dose), contains 4x the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot. Results from a clinical trial showed adults 65 and older who received the vaccine had 24% fewer influenza illnesses than those who received the standard-dose vaccine.
Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine (brand name Fluad), is made with MF59 adjuvant, an additive that can create a stronger immune response. Trials indicated that older adults who received the vaccine had significantly higher immune responses than those who received standard vaccines. People who receive either vaccine may experience heightened symptoms, including pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, and muscle ache, which typically go away in one to three days. Dr. Anmolsingh advises people 65 and older to be vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine to decrease pneumococcal disease that may cause death. The vaccine protects against illnesses caused by streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, the leading bacterial cause of pneumonia. Meningitis, otitis media (ear infections), and bacteremia, are also manifestations of strep pneumoniae. Talk with your doctor about which flu vaccines are best for you. While the vaccine is no guarantee that you won’t get the illness, it reduces your chances, which is more important now than ever before. Studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by 40% to 60% among the overall population during seasons when circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine. While not perfect, it’s better than nothing. “While the combination of COVID-19 and the flu have the potential of overwhelming our healthcare system, I remain optimistic that we have the ability to manage this situation if we continue to behave responsibly,” Dr. Anmolsingh said. “We might even find that the measures we take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will also help reduce the spread of the flu.”