Dear Savvy Senior,
I usually get a regular flu shot each fall, but would like to find out if the swine flu vaccination or any other preventative shots are being recommended for seniors over 65 this year. What can you tell me? —Flu-Conscious Phyllis
With a rough flu season expected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending multiple vaccinations for seniors this year: First, one for the seasonal flu and one for pneumonia, both of which you should get right now; and then, when it becomes available, a shot for the H1N1 swine flu. Here’s what you should know.
Just like every other year, a seasonal flu (influenza) shot is important for seniors age 65 and older to get because they have the highest risks of developing dangerous complications. The flu puts more than 220,000 people in the hospital each year and kills around 36,000 — 90 percent of whom are seniors. Medicare Part B pays for flu shots but if you’re not covered, there are plenty of places that offer them for free. To locate a vaccination site call your county health department or the CDC information line at 800-232-4636, or visit www.flucliniclocator.org. (Note: if you’re allergic to chicken eggs, latex, have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome or have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past, you should not get vaccinated without consulting your doctor first. Or, if you’re ill with a fever you should wait until your symptoms pass.)
The other vaccine the CDC recommends for seniors is for pneumococcal pneumonia (the vaccine is called Pneumovax). If you’re over 65 and haven’t already gotten this shot, you should get it now. With the double risks of regular flu and swine flu looming this season, both of which can lead to pneumonia, this vaccine can provide you protection that will last for up to 10 years. And, you can get it on the same day that you get your flu shot. This vaccination is also covered under Medicare Part B.
Seniors are also recommended to get the H1N1 vaccination for swine flu when it becomes available to them. The first 45 million doses — of a total of 195 million — are expected to be ready the first or second week of October, but the CDC is recommending that the most at-risk populations receive it first. That includes pregnant women, healthcare workers, parents and caregivers for children under 6 months old, people ages 6 months to 24 years, and those ages 25 through 64 with chronic health disorders such as asthma, respiratory illness or a compromised immune systems.
Once the demand for those groups have been met, health officials are then recommending everyone ages 25 through 64 receive the H1N1 shot, followed by seniors age 65 and older. The reason seniors are at the back of the line for this vaccine is because they’re less vulnerable than the younger age groups. According to the CDC, seniors have encountered flu strains as children that offer them some protection from the swine flu, but they should still get the shot.
Covered under Medicare Part B, swine flu vaccinations will be available in most of the same places that seasonal flu shots are given. To locate H1N1 vaccination sites and check vaccine availability, call your doctor, the county health department or the CDC information line at 800-232-4636.
Savvy Tips: In addition to getting vaccinated, the CDC reminds everyone that the three best ways to stay healthy during flu season is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and stay home if you’re sick. For more information on the seasonal flu and swine flu, visit Flu.gov. And to learn more about recommended vaccines for older adults see www.cdc.gov/vaccines.