Every year, at the start of flu season, signs and flyers start appearing at local pharmacies and doctors’ offices advocating for individuals to get their flu vaccine. Receiving the vaccine is important for everyone but is especially important for the elderly population 65 years and older.
According to Tompkins County Whole Health, the flu, also referred to as influenza, is an infection that spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Everyone can get the flu, and it can affect different age groups more severely. That is why it is highly encouraged for everyone to get the flu vaccine, especially the elderly population.
As we age, the immune system weakens, therefore making it harder to fight an infection. It is important that the elderly population get the flu vaccine so that they’re protected and, in turn, will have a better immune response if they do contract the virus.
“Every year, the flu vaccine is a different formula, and it protects against the most current strains of the flu, which changes year to year,” said Clark Manderville, a Senior Community Health Nurse at Tompkins County Whole Health. “That’s why the flu vaccine is recommended yearly because it changes formulation to combat the current strain.”
According to Manderville, those who receive the flu vaccine, especially in the elderly population, can still become infected with the flu virus, but if the flu vaccine is on board, they’re less likely to need emergency services or be admitted to a hospital and are more likely to be able to combat flu symptoms with over-the-counter remedies.
“The flu can mimic a lot of different cold viruses that we have, but typically with the flu, you’re going to have more symptoms than just the congestion and headache,” Manderville said. “It’s usually accompanied with a fever and body aches and overall, not feeling well, and it typically lasts a little bit longer than a common cold.”
The symptom most associated with the flu is a fever. If you are feeling ill and have a fever, it may be the flu. It is important to protect yourself with the flu vaccine, but it is also important to understand what is in the vaccine that you are receiving.
Those 65 years and older are recommended to receive a different formulation of the flu vaccine than those 65 years and younger. They should receive the high-dose vaccine, which contains four times the antigens as a standard flu vaccine.
“Their immune systems need a little bit more of a boost,” Manderville said. “Because it contains more of the antigen, sometimes the side effects are a little bit more potent than the normal or regular flu dose.”
According to Manderville, most generally, after receiving the flu vaccine, individuals can expect soreness or redness at the site of the injection. 24 to 48 hours after receiving the vaccine, individuals can have other symptoms such as a low-grade fever, headache, or tiredness.
“Most pharmacies offer the flu vaccine,” Manderville said. “They offer both formulations, the regular flu vaccine, and high dose flu vaccine.”
According to Manderville, Tompkins County Whole Health offers on-site clinics on Fridays. These clinics are by appointment only, and both formulations of the flu vaccine are offered. Most primary care physicians also carry both vaccines.
“If they don’t receive the flu vaccine, they are more likely to have more severe complications if they acquire the flu virus,” Manderville said. “It could require hospitalization because their immune system is weaker than those in the younger population.”
Along with getting the flu vaccine, the elderly population can protect themselves from contracting the flu virus by washing their hands and making sure they stay away from individuals who are ill when they go out in public.
While the high-dose flu vaccine is recommended for those 65 years and older, if they are unable for whatever reason to get the higher dose, getting the regular flu vaccine is still extremely helpful.
“In the situation where for some reason they are unable to get the high dose, getting the regular flu dose is beneficial as well,” Manderville said. “We’d rather people get vaccinated than not vaccinated at all.”
On Tompkins County Whole Health’s website, there is a Flu Vaccine Finder where you can put in your zip code what type of flu vaccine you wish to receive and are given a list of places where you can get the flu vaccine nearby.