By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve been reading that there are a bunch of different flu vaccines for seniors this flu season. Which flu shot is right for me?
It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to get protected from the flu, you simply got a flu shot. But nowadays, there are so many flu vaccine options you might feel like you are ordering off a menu. To help you decide which flu shot is right for you, you need to consider your health, age and personal preferences. Here’s what you should know.
Flu Shot Options
Just as they do every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a seasonal flu shot to everyone 6 months of age and older, but it’s especially important for seniors who are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. The flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills an average of 24,000 — 80 to 90 percent of whom are seniors. Here’s the rundown of the different vaccine options.
You will only need to get one of these:
Standard flu vaccines: If you want to keep things basic, you can’t go wrong with a “standard (trivalent) flu shot,” which has been around for more than 40 years and protects against three different strains of flu viruses. This year’s version protects against two A strains (H1N1 and H3N2), and one influenza B virus.
Or, for additional protection, you should consider the “quadrivalent flu vaccine” that protects against four types of influenza — the same three strains as the standard trivalent flu shot, plus an additional B-strain virus.
Senior specific vaccines: If you’re age 65 or older and want some extra protection, you should consider the “Fluzone High-Dose” or “FLUAD.”
The Fluzone High-Dose has four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot does, while the FLUAD contains an added ingredient called adjuvant MF59. Both vaccines provide a stronger immune response for better protection.
Egg allergy vaccines: If you’re allergic to eggs, your flu shot options are “Flucelvax” or “FluBlok.” Neither of these vaccines uses chicken eggs in their manufacturing process.
Fear-of-needle vaccines: If you don’t like needles, and you’re between the ages of 18 and 64, your options are the “Fluzone Intradermal” or “AFLURIA” vaccine.
The Fluzone intradermal flu shot uses a tiny 1/16-inch long micro-needle to inject the vaccine just under the skin, rather than deeper in the muscle like standard flu shot. The AFLURIA vaccine is administered by a jet injector, which is a medical device that uses a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid to penetrate the skin instead of a needle.
You should also know that if you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Part B covers all flu vaccinations, but if you have private health insurance, you’ll need to check with your plan to see which vaccines they do or don’t cover.
Two other important vaccinations the CDC recommends to seniors, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. Around 1 million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year, and about 50,000 people die from it.
The CDC recommends that all seniors, 65 or older, get two vaccinations — Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered just once at different times, work in different ways to provide maximum protection.
If you haven’t yet received any pneumococcal vaccine you should get the Prevnar 13 first, followed by Pneumovax 23 six to 12 months later. Medicare Part B covers both shots, if they are taken at least one year apart.
To locate a vaccination site that offers both flu and pneumonia shots, visit Vaccines.gov and type in your ZIP code.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.