With flu season fast approaching, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s influenza immunization recommendations and urges older adults to receive an annual influenza vaccination.
Through a new national Flu + You campaign, NCOA is working to improve vaccination rates among this age group because adults 65 and older are particularly vulnerable to the flu and its complications. The objective of Flu + You is to inform older adults about the serious threat influenza poses, the importance of annual immunization, and the available vaccine options covered by Medicare for people over 65. NCOA’s Flu + You campaign is made possible through a collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur.
“Each year in the U.S. about 9 out of 10 flu-related deaths and more than six out of 10 flu-related hospitalizations occur in adults 65 and older,” says Richard Birkel, PhD, MPA, acting senior vice president of Healthy Aging and director of NCOA’s Self-Management Alliance. “For this reason NCOA wants to help protect older adults from influenza and ensure that people in this age group and those who care for them fully understand the importance of annual immunization and the vaccine options available to them. Through the Flu + You program, we want to help older adults live a better, healthier life.”
The body’s immune system and its ability to fight illness decrease with age, leaving even healthy older adults at greater risk for influenza and its complications. Leading health experts recommend annual vaccination for everyone 6 months and older, but it is especially crucial for older adults to get vaccinated.
“Vaccination is the best protection against influenza and can help prevent influenza-related complications, which can be particularly serious for older adults,” says Dr. Howard K. Koh, assistant secretary for health, United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “I urge everyone 65 and older to learn about influenza and to talk to their health care providers about vaccination.”
“People 65 years and older have some of the highest rates of hospitalization and death as a result of influenza infection,” says Dr. Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunizations at the CDC. “Lagging influenza vaccination rates among minorities in this age group are of particular concern and we are constantly working to improve flu vaccination within these populations.”
The age-related decline of the immune system also affects the body’s response to vaccination. Recent studies have shown that the traditional flu vaccine might not work as well for people 65 years of age and older because the weakened immune system produces fewer antibodies following vaccination to help protect against infection. Antibodies are the soldiers of the immune system helping to respond and protect against infection when exposed to the virus.
For this reason, adults 65 and older have two vaccine options available to them – the traditional flu shot, as well as a higher dose flu shot. The higher dose vaccine addresses the weakening immune response by triggering the body to produce more antibodies against the flu virus than would be produced by the traditional flu shot.
Both the traditional and higher dose flu shot options are among the vaccines recommended by the CDC for adults 65 years of age and older and are covered by Medicare Part B with no copay.
“Because older adults are at such increased risk, they should make sure they are vaccinated before influenza viruses start causing illness in their communities, ideally getting vaccinated in the late summer or fall months,” says Bridges. “Getting vaccinated not only helps protect yourself, but also helps prevent the spread of flu to loved ones and others who are at high risk, such as infants and young children, pregnant women, and anyone with a chronic health condition, such as heart disease and diabetes.”
As part of the Flu + You initiative, Bridges and Birkel will be participating in interviews with media across the nation to help spread these important public health messages and educate older adults, their caregivers, and family members about the serious threat of influenza and the importance of vaccination.
The Flu + You campaign also will be conducting regional programming in Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania – all states with large populations of older adults – to reach local residents with information about the dangers of influenza and vaccine options for adults 65 and older.
In addition, older adults and those who care for them can visit the website, www.ncoa.org/Flu to find additional information and download educational materials.