Flu shot is advertised at East Arkansas Family Health Center in Lepanto, Arkansas. Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht/REUTERS

Urging the elderly to get strong flu vaccinations this season

Doctors have a message for vaccine-bored Americans: Don’t miss the flu shot this fall—and seniors, order a special kind of extra strength.

After influenza reached historically low levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be ready to return. Key clue: Australia’s bad flu season is over.

While there is no way to predict whether the United States will be hardest hit, “Last year we were in flu season without knowing if the flu was there or not. This year, Richard Webby, an influenza specialist from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, said We know the flu is back.”

Annual influenza vaccinations are recommended Starting at 6 months of age. The flu is most dangerous for people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health problems, including heart and lung disease.

Here’s what you need to know:

Snapshots of the elderly

As people get older, their immune system does not respond as strongly to a standard flu vaccination. This year, people 65 and older are being urged to get a special type of extra protection.

There are three options. Fluzone High-Dose and Flublok both contain higher doses of the main anti-flu ingredient. Another option is Fluad Adjuvanted, which has a regular dose but contains a special ingredient that helps boost people’s immune response.

Older adults can ask what type their doctor carries. But most flu shots are given in pharmacies and some drugstore sites, such as CVS, automatically direct people to sites that give megadoses if their birth date shows they qualify.

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Webby advised making sure older relatives and friends know about the big shots, in case you don’t tell them when they are seeking a vaccination.

They should at least ask, ‘Do you have the best shots for me,’ said Webby. “The bottom line is that they work better” for this age group.

If the location is outside the target doses for older adults, it’s best to get the standard flu shot rather than skip the vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All flu vaccines in the United States — including the types for people younger than 65 — are “tetravalent,” meaning they protect against four different strains of influenza. Younger people have options, too, including injections for those with egg allergies and a nasal spray version called FluMist.

Why are flu experts on the alert

Australia has just had its worst flu season in five years, and what happens in the southern hemisphere winter often foreshadows what northern countries can expect, said Dr. Andrew Pekos of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

People have largely abandoned the cover-up and distancing measures that earlier in the pandemic also helped prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses such as the flu.

“This poses a particular risk to young children who may not have had much or previous exposure to influenza viruses before this season,” Pecos added.

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“This year we will have a real flu season as we saw before the pandemic,” said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

He said children’s hospitals are already seeing an unusually early rise in other respiratory infections including respiratory syncytial virus or respiratory syncytial virus, and he fears the flu will also hit earlier than usual – as it did in Australia.

The CDC recommends a flu shot by the end of October, but says it can be given at any time during flu season. It takes about two weeks for protection to start.

The United States expects 173 million to 183 million doses this year. And yes, you can get a flu shot and an updated COVID-19 booster at the same time — one in each arm to reduce pain.

Future flu shots

Companies that make the two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines are now testing flu vaccines made with the same technology. One reason: When the flu mutates, so-called mRNA vaccine recipes can be updated more quickly than current flu vaccines, most of which are made by growing the flu virus in chicken eggs.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech are recruiting 25,000 healthy adults in the United States to receive either the experimental or the regular type flu vaccine, to see how effective the new approach is in demonstrating this flu season.

Rival Moderna has tested its version on about 6,000 people in Australia, Argentina and other countries during influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere and is awaiting results.

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