Seniors asked for stronger flu shots this year

This year, everyone aged 65 and older is encouraged to get a special flu vaccine for extra protection.

Doctors have a message for vaccine-weary Americans: Don’t skimp on your flu shot this fall—and seniors, ask for a special extra-strength strain.

To Influenza has reached historically low levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, it might be poised for a comeback. The most important clue: A bad flu season has just come to an end in Australia.

While there’s no way to predict whether the US will be hit that hard, “last year we went into flu season not knowing if there was flu or not. This year we know the flu is back,” said influenza specialist Richard Webby of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Annual flu shots are recommended starting with 6 month old babies. The flu is most dangerous for people aged 65 and older, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions, including heart and lung diseases.


As people age, people’s immune systems become less responsive to the standard flu shot. This year, people over the age of 65 are being urged to get a special type for extra protection.

There are three options. Fluzone High-Dose and Flublok each contain higher doses of the key anti-flu ingredient. The other option is Fluad Adjuvanted, which has a regular dosage but contains a special ingredient that helps boost people’s immune responses.

Seniors can ask what kind their doctor carries. However, most flu shots are available from pharmacies, and some drugstore websites like CVS automatically direct people to locations that offer senior doses if their date of birth shows they qualify.

Webby advised making sure older relatives and friends know about the seniors’ vaccinations in case they aren’t told when they get vaccinated.

“You should at least ask, ‘Do you have the recordings that are better for me?'” Webby said. “The bottom line is that they work better” for this age group.

If a location doesn’t have doses intended for seniors, getting a standard flu shot is better than skipping the shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All flu vaccines in the US — including types for people under 65 — are “quadrivalent,” meaning they protect against four different strains of flu. Younger people also have choices, including shots for those with egg allergies and a nasal spray version called FluMist.


Australia was just experiencing its worst flu season in five years, and what happens in the southern hemisphere’s winters often foreshadows what northern countries can expect, said Dr. Andrew Pekosz from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And people have largely foregone masking and distancing precautions, which also helped prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses like the flu early in the pandemic.

“This poses a risk, especially for young children who may not have had much or any exposure to influenza viruses before this season,” Pekosz added.

“This year we’re going to have a real flu season like we saw before the pandemic,” said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

He said children’s hospitals are already seeing an unusual early rise in other respiratory infections, including RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and fears the flu will also strike sooner than usual – as has happened in Australia.

The CDC advises getting flu shots by the end of October, but says they can be given at any time during flu season. It takes about two weeks for protection to kick in.

The US expects 173 million to 183 million doses this year. And yes, you can get a flu shot and an updated COVID-19 booster at the same time – one in each arm to relieve pain.


The companies that make the two most commonly used COVID-19 vaccines are now testing flu shots made with the same technology. One reason: In the case of a mutated influenza, the formulations of so-called mRNA vaccines could be updated more quickly than today’s flu vaccinations, which are usually produced by multiplying influenza viruses in chicken eggs.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are recruiting 25,000 healthy adults across the US to receive either its experimental flu shot or a regular shot to see how effective the new approach proves this flu season.

Rival Moderna tested its version on about 6,000 people in Australia, Argentina and other countries during the southern hemisphere flu season and is awaiting results. Seniors asked for stronger flu shots this year

Laura Coffey

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