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Should seniors delay getting a flu shot?

A later shot might be more effective but the danger is too many people will fail to get vaccinated

Photo (c) Lisa F. Young - Fotolia
October is when there is usually a push for people to get flu shots. The vaccine is especially recommended for seniors and pregnant women.

Seniors usually need little convincing and are often first in line to get vaccinated. But increasingly, some seniors are being advised to wait a little later in the season. The reason is a four year old study that found evidence that the vaccine becomes less effective over time in the bodies of those 65 and older.

It suggested that seniors who got a flu shot in September or October might be more vulnerable to the flu later in the season, sometime when the virus is as its height.

According to a report by Pharmacy Times, that point of view is far from universal. It quotes the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices as saying the flu vaccine should be offered as soon as it is available.

The risk from delay

The Immunization Action Coalition notes that delaying a vaccination might, in fact, provide stronger immunity deeper into flu season, the risk is that too many older people will end up not getting a flu shot.

Whether you get it early or late, health care professionals say the important thing is to get vaccinated.

“The most predictable thing about flu season is its unpredictability,” said Dr. Claudine De Dan, a faculty member at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. “The vaccine protects not only you, but also those whose aren’t able to get the vaccine because of their age or pre-existing medical condition.”

Flu 'myths'

De Dan says she is constantly having to counter what she calls “myths” surrounding flu shots. One she says she hears quite often is “flu shots can give you the flu.” Absolutely untrue, she says.

“The injectable vaccine is made from dead viruses, so it can’t cause the flu,” she said. “After vaccination, your body does need up to two weeks to develop full immunity, so if you were already exposed to the virus, you could end up with flu soon after getting vaccinated.”

She says other people wrongly believe that the dangers of getting the flu are just hype.

“The truth is that even the mildest flu seasons can cause as many as 3,000 flu-related deaths,” she said. "That could rise to more than 45,000 deaths and nearly 200,000 hospitalizations during a severe flu season.”

De Dan says last year’s vaccine was about 60% effective, meaning you reduced the risk of getting a nasty case of the flu by 60%.

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