Pros and Cons of a Flu Shot for the Elderly

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A flu can protect many people from the devastating effects of influenza. But is it a smart move for all seniors and elderly? First, a couple of dispelled myths:
  • The flu is a harmless – if annoying – bug. Not quite. About 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for the flu each year. Of those, 3,000 to 49,000 people die each year- about the same number as breast cancer victims, and twice as much as AIDS-caused deaths.
  • The flu shot will make me sick. Nothing could be further from the truth! It’s impossible for the flu shot to give you the flu because the vaccine contains a dead flu and a dead virus is incapable of infection.
  • Cold weather causes the flu. Again, not true at all. The influenza virus causes the flu, and can spread as easily in frigid Minnesota winters as it can it balmy Florida summers.
  • The vaccine doesn’t work. While it’s impossible for medical researchers to protect against every type of flu (each year, thousands of strains manifest themselves), the predicted top three most virulent strains are included in the vaccine, with a success rate of 59% in healthy adults aged 18 to 64, and 83% as a nasal spray for children aged 6 months to 7 years.
  • Nothing can treat the flu. While there’s no cure for the flu, both Tamiflu (pill) and Relenza (spray) can be effective if taken within the first 48 hours of the first symptoms, but still beneficial even if taken after the 48-hour mark.
  • Pros of Getting the Flu Shot

    While it may not be for everyone, the flu shot – especially for the elderly – can have some very strong advantages:

  • The flu shot can be live-saving. Not every strain of the flu is potentially fatal, but certain demographics (the young, the aged, and the infirmed) have a harder time fending off the virus than others.
  • The flu shot is accessible. You don’t have to necessarily make an appointment with your doctor, as many nurses, clinicians, and pharmacists also equipped to offer flu shots.
  • The flu shot is safe. Many concerns regarding thimerosal being linked to autism have since been debunked, and thimerosal-free flu shots are available.
  • Cons of Getting the Flu Shot

    Although it can seem like there aren’t any downsides to getting the flu shot, there are a few:

  • Allergies. Because flu vaccines are cultivated inside of chicken eggs, those with egg allergies should check with their doctors before getting the flu shot.
  • Side effects. It’s important to note that the flu shot does not cause the flu, even though side effects like soreness, redness or swelling at the site of injection can occur, as well as low-grade fevers or aches (these all resolve within a day or two.)
  • Needed repetition. The flu vaccine is only good once a year, and only protects against three strains. The shot is cultivated with anticipation of the most virulent predicted strains, and does not protect against “spur-of-the-moment” strains that can pop up during flu season.
  • This winter, make an appointment with your doctor to decide if the flu shot is right for you.