Commentary

This holiday season, the best gift you can give others is to be vaccinated against the flu

Getting your flu shot is important because we’ll be spending time with people that are at high-risk of developing complications from respiratory infections, especially in people 65 years and older, write guest columnists Kiera Martin and Kevin Cleveland.

health care worker gives a COVID shot

In this file photo, Lalain Reyeg administers a COVID-19 booster vaccine and an influenza vaccine to Army veteran Gary Nasakaitis at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on Sept. 24, 2021, in Hines, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

When the leaves start changing colors and there’s a cold breeze in the air, we begin to think of fall and spending time with friends and family as the holiday season nears.

What we don’t have on our minds is the beginning of the respiratory illness season, such as influenza, and the importance of getting your annual flu vaccine. This is important because we will be spending time with people that are at high-risk of developing complications from respiratory infections, especially in people 65 years and older.

Nationally, flu vaccination rates among people 65 years and older are not where they need to be to prevent serious illness and hospitalization. Currently, only 45.6% of people 65 years and older are vaccinated against influenza.

This is well below the HealthPeople 2030 goal of 70%. This is important because older adults are at the greatest risk for flu-related complications, hospitalizations and death.

It’s estimated that approximately 50% of flu-related hospitalizations and approximately 80% of flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 years and older in recent years.

These complications and risks are due in part to the waning immune system that occurs with age, commonly known as immunosenescence. This decline of the immune system makes older adults more prone to infections but also a diminished response to vaccination. That is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended an enhanced influenza vaccine for people 65 and older.

There are three enhanced flu vaccines available, high-dose, recombinant and adjuvanted. These vaccines are specially designed to boost the waning immune system and optimize protection against influenza infection.

Is there an advantage of one over the other? There is no advantage of receiving one over the other — either of the three vaccines are effective at protecting against influenza, minimizing doctor and hospital visits and preventing serious complications from an infection.

The benefits of the flu vaccine go far beyond protecting against severe influenza illness. The flu vaccine also provides protection against heart attacks and strokes that may occur in those with existing cardiovascular disease. An influenza infection increases the risk of heart attack up to 3 times in those that are unvaccinated. Studies have demonstrated the benefit of influenza vaccines at preventing a heart attack is similar to that of smoking cessation, certain cholesterol lowering medications and proper blood pressure control. For this reason, your annual flu vaccine should be a routine preventive measure to dramatically reduce your risk from these complications.

Make sure you talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about which vaccine is right for you. And remember, the annual flu vaccine is a routine way to prevent flu-related complications, hospitalizations and death, allowing you to spend this, and every future holiday season with friends and family.

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Kevin Cleveland
Kevin Cleveland

Kevin W. Cleveland is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Idaho State University College of Pharmacy.

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Kiera Martin
Kiera Martin

Kiera Martin is a third year doctor of pharmacy student at Idaho State University College of Pharmacy.

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