Flu Vaccine for Older People: Is It Safe?

Yes, it’s safe. Those who have had the COVID-19 vaccine or are still planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine can also safely get the influenza vaccine.

Key takeaways:
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    Each year, millions of people suffer from seasonal flu.
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    Flu is generally a mild illness, but for some, including older adults and those with chronic illnesses, it can lead to a severe, even life-threatening illness.
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    Getting a flu vaccine every year helps prevent getting the illness.
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    The flu vaccine is safe, effective, and generally available at little or no cost.
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    One of the key factors in recognizing the flu in older adults is fever.

In the United States, federal health officials now recommend a higher dose of flu vaccine for those people over the age of 65. Fluzone or Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent triggers a better immune response in people over age 65 than the regular vaccine.

Older adults are at higher risk for developing life-threatening complications from the flu. This is especially true if the person has underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, or cancer, or is immunocompromised.

Getting the flu vaccine is safe, and effective, and may even help prevent other respiratory illnesses.

Are the flu and COVID-19 the same?

No, they aren’t. Influenza and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses that are highly contagious. Two different vaccines are required for protection against the flu and COVID-19.

There are similarities between the two viruses and the way you can catch the respective illness, including respiratory spread through coughing or sneezing, and by touching contaminated objects and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.

Influenza causes infections of the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The illness can range from mild to severe, particularly in the younger and older age groups.

There are two main types of influenza viruses: A and B. Both types are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year. While seasonal flu activity is low in early autumn, there are signs that activity is beginning to increase. It is recommended that you get your flu shot by the end of October, if possible.

It seems that COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu. There are continuing efforts to maximize those who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine and are up to date with their booster shots. COVID-19 vaccination is critical in reducing severe illnesses associated with this virus.

Compared to the flu, people infected with COVID-19 take longer to show signs and symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods. It may be impossible to tell the difference between someone who has the flu or COVID-19. Therefore, it is essential to be vaccinated for both.

Common symptoms of both COVID-19 and flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more frequent in children with flu, but can occur in any age with COVID-19)
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19

What are the recommendations for getting the flu vaccine?

Everyone – particularly those over age 65 – should be aware that decisions in obtaining the flu vaccine are associated with decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine, and vice versa. Most people do not have any allergies to vaccines, but the following recommendations should be considered.

Those people with a history of egg allergy who only have hives after exposure to eggs should receive age-appropriate inactivated influenza or recombinant influenza vaccine.

The selection of the particular vaccine which is right for you should be administered and supervised by a healthcare provider who can recognize and manage potential severe allergic reactions such as throat swelling (angioedema), respiratory distress, lightheadedness, recurrent vomiting, or other severe reactions.

The recommendations of when and if to get your flu vaccine to depend on the following:

People with acute COVID-19 should receive an inactivated influenza vaccine.

Healthcare providers should consider deferring influenza vaccination for symptomatic patients with COVID-19 until these patients are no longer moderately or severely ill and have completed their COVID-19 isolation period.

Clinicians should advise people with an asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection or mild COVID-19 symptoms to seek influenza vaccination when they no longer require isolation. They can be vaccinated sooner if they are in a healthcare setting for other reasons.

An influenza vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine may be administered concurrently. It is safe to get them both.

More effective flu vaccines are recommended for older adults, including the Fluad Quadrivalent. If high-dose vaccines are not available, a standard seasonal influenza vaccine is recommended in older adults.

How to prevent getting the flu

In addition to getting your flu vaccine, you can help stop the spread of the flu by:

  • Washing your hands
  • Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school

It’s safe for those over the age of 65 to get vaccinated against influenza, preferably with a high-dose quadrivalent version of the vaccine.

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