November 6, 2013
Tom Canty Vice President and General Manager, Empire BlueCross BlueShield
Government, Labor and Special Accounts
One of the best things seniors can do for their health this winter, won’t cost anything and doesn’t take long. I’m talking about getting a flu shot. Shots are important to everyone, but particularly for seniors who typically account for 90 percent of deaths that occur during any particularly flu season.1
Flu season generally starts around October and continues through May. It commonly peaks in January or February. Even people who got the shot last year, will need to get it again this year. That’s because viruses change each year and a person’s immunity weakens over time.
The cost of the vaccine and its administration is generally covered by Medicare Part B, as long as the provider accepts Medicare patients. It is available at multiple locations, including doctor’s offices, health clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers, some employers, and even some schools.
Last year, more seniors were hospitalized with the flu than in any year since 2003 and perhaps more than ever before.2 The shot comes in various formulations. Some shots, known as trivalent, cover three viruses, while a newer shot, known as a quadrivalent, covers four. There also is a “high dose” vaccine designed specifically for those 65 years old and older. Patients should talk to their doctors about the shot that is best for them as well as any concerns they may have.
The flu vaccine can help people avoid months of potential complications and even hospitalization. It is one of the best things seniors can do to take control and remain healthy this flu season. Some people, for example, worry they may actually get the flu from the vaccine. That is not possible since the injectable vaccine is made from killed viruses. 3
Seniors should consider getting a pneumonia vaccine at the same time as their flu shot, if they’ve never had one. Unlike the flu shot, the pneumonia vaccine is generally required only once in a lifetime. In 2007, influenza and pneumonia together were the seventh leading cause of death in adults age 65 and older.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take precautions to prevent the flu this season by avoiding close contact with infected people, keeping hands away from the face, washing hands with soap and water, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of liquids and eating nutritious foods. Anyone with flu symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately to start antiviral treatment.
For more information about the dangers of flu and the benefits of vaccinations, talk to a health care provider or visit www.cdc.gov/flu.