Flu Vaccine for the Elderly
Flu vaccinations have been the focus of serious debate. On one-hand, the vaccine has the potential to protect people from serious illness. On the other hand, its effectiveness is questionable and it exposes people to potential risks.
When it comes to the elderly population, an additional risk is present: a weaker immune response after receiving the vaccine. Despite this argument, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advocates getting the shot, for four reasons:
- The flu possesses a greater risk for the population
- Less protection via the vaccine, is better than none at all
- The vaccine can “protect against more serious outcomes” and “illness may be milder”
- Not all people 65+ fall into the same category
What’s Going on with the Flu this Year?
According to NBC News, “Flu comes every year, and every few seasons there is a bad one. Flu kills between 12,000 to 56,000 Americans every year, depending on how rough the season is, and it puts 140,000 to 710,000 people into the hospital. This year is shaping up to be on the severe end …”
Severe indeed. In the CDC Update on Flu Activity, from January 26, Dan Jernigan presented a gloomy image. He spoke about “a tough flu season so far this year,” mentioning the geographic spread throughout the U.S. and the high level not weakening for 3 consecutive weeks.
“Most people with influenza are being infected with the H3N2 influenza virus,” said Jernigan. “And in seasons where H3N2 is the main cause of influenza, we see more cases, more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more deaths, especially among older people.”
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine does not protect all influenza virus types and subtypes equally. Influenza A(H3N2), specifically, presents a serious challenge for the vaccine.
This information sheds new light on the challenges of the current flu season and explains the limited effectiveness of the vaccine, so far.
The flu vaccination isn’t perfect, especially this year. Nevertheless, the shot has its merit and as the CDC puts it, “While the protection elderly adults obtain from flu vaccination can vary significantly, a yearly flu vaccination is still the best protection currently available against the flu.”
Whether you advocate for the shot or not, it is important to be careful and maintain healthy habits. In the words of Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, “The most important things to remember are, one, protect yourself from flu by washing your hands often, especially if you are caring for someone who is sick. Protect others by staying home, seeing a doctor if you are sick, and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And remember it’s not too late to get a flu shot for yourself and for your child.”
What are your thoughts about the flu vaccine this year?
Please share in the comments below.