While the spotlight continues to focus on COVID-19 and new variants, it’s important not to forget that flu season is upon us. A question that comes up every flu season is whether you need an influenza vaccine (flu shot) every year. Some people believe it isn’t really necessary because the virus is so similar from year to year. The experts say, however, that’s a bad assumption.
In reality, strains of the flu virus differ each year. Some years the difference is especially significant. Because of that, the vaccine is designed to protect against what are believed to be the most common strains for the upcoming flu season.
Leading Flu Risks for Seniors
While younger adults might be better able to fight the flu, seniors may not. For older adults, a serious case of influenza can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. While the flu is no fun for anyone, the risks are often greater for seniors.
- Flu-related complications: People aged 65 and older are at a higher risk than younger people for serious health complications related to the flu. Pneumonia, for example, is one of the most dangerous. Older adults account for 85% of flu-related deaths and almost 70% of influenza-related hospital admissions every year.
- Exacerbating pre-existing conditions: Seniors are more likely to have a weakened immune system because of pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The flu further exacerbates these illnesses.
One of the best ways a senior can guard against influenza is by having an annual vaccine. So, yes, getting a flu shot every year is a good idea. For some, false information associated with vaccines might deter them from getting it. Here are two of the most common misperceptions about the flu shot.
Busting Two Common Myths about the Annual Flu Vaccine
- The flu vaccine gives you the flu to build up immunity.
An older adult who really needs the vaccine might resist getting it because they believe it will make them sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu shots build immunity by administering either an inactivated virus or a single strain of the flu. This produces an immune response in the body that protects you from the flu without getting sick.
- Flu shots hurt and can have painful side effects.
For most people, the shot itself causes very little discomfort. Relaxing your arm as you receive the vaccine also helps minimize pain. Make sure to move your arm around afterward to prevent stiffness. Side effects are usually fairly minimal, too. Common ones include pain at the injection site, a minor headache, and muscle aches.
What Is the Best Month to Receive a Flu Vaccine?
Your primary care physician is probably the best person to answer this question. They know your personal medical history and risk factors. But health experts generally agree that getting your flu shot in mid-October is best. That gives the body time to build up immunity before the virus begins to make its rounds.
The influenza vaccine isn’t the only way you can prevent being bitten by the flu bug. This article, “Prepare to Shoo the Flu,” offers more useful tips to stay safe and healthy.