Why Seniors Need an Annual Flu Shot

Flu shots are a necessity for most older adults. Learn more about the annual vaccine and how it helps prevent illness.

A couple with band aids on their arms indicating they just got their flu shots.

While much of the nation’s attention continues to focus on COVID-19 and its variants, it’s important to remember that flu season is upon us. One question that arises every flu season is if you really need to get a flu shot. Some people assume it isn’t necessary because the virus is largely the same from year to year. Experts say, however, that’s a bad assumption.

The truth is the strains of the flu virus differ each year. Some years the difference is quite significant. Because of that, the vaccine is reformulated to protect people against what are predicted to be the most common strains for the upcoming flu season.

Leading Flu Risks for Seniors

While younger people may be able to fight the flu without any lasting health issues, older adults might have a tougher time. For seniors, a serious bout of the flu can be dangerous and even life-threatening. While the flu is no fun for anyone, the risks are often greater for older adults:

  • Complications caused by influenza: Adults over the age of 65 have a higher risk for serious complications than younger people. Pneumonia is one of the most dangerous. Older adults account for up to 85% of flu-related deaths and between 50 and 70% of influenza-related hospital admissions every year.
  • Exacerbation of pre-existing conditions: Older adults are also more likely to have pre-existing health conditions that can weaken the immune system, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Contracting the flu can cause these types of illnesses to worsen or flare. One of the best ways to prevent that is by having an annual vaccine.

For some people, myths or misinformation associated with vaccines might deter them from getting one whether it is for COVID-19 or the flu. Here are two of the most common misperceptions about flu shots.

Common Myths about the Annual Flu Vaccine

  • The influenza shot gives you a dose of the flu to build up immunity.

A senior who needs the protection offered by the flu 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 contain either an inactivated virus or a single strain of the flu. This produces an immune response in the body that guards against the flu. While there is no guarantee you won’t get sick, being vaccinated can lessen the seriousness and duration if you do.

  • Flu shots are painful and have serious side effects.

This is another dangerous myth that might keep a person from being vaccinated. In reality the shot itself has a small needle and causes very little discomfort. Relaxing your arm as you receive the vaccine and moving it around a bit after can help minimize pain. Side effects are usually minimal, too. Commonly reported side effects are soreness at the injection site, a minor headache, and muscle aches.

When Is the Best Time to Receive a Flu Vaccine?

Your primary care physician is the best person to answer this question. They are familiar with your family medical history and personal risk factors. However, most experts suggest getting your flu vaccine in mid-October. That gives the body time to build up immunity before the virus begins to make its rounds.

Improve Immunity before Flu Season

The annual vaccine is just one way to prevent contracting the flu this winter. There are other steps you can take to fight off illness. “How to Help an Older Adult Build a Stronger Immune System” shares additional steps you can take to protect yourself.