Dear Savvy Senior: Are there any specific flu shots that are better suited for seniors? I just turned 65 and would like to find out what’s recommended and how Medicare covers it. — Semi-Healthy Senior
Dear Semi-Healthy: There are actually two different flu vaccines available this year that are designed specifically for seniors age 65 and older. One option is the Fluzone High-Dose, which has been available since 2010, and the other is the new FDA approved FLUAD vaccine (you only need to get one of these).
The Fluzone High-Dose (see fluzone.com) is a high-potency vaccine that contains four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. The new FLUAD vaccine (FLUAD.com) contains an added ingredient called adjuvant MF59 that also helps create a stronger immune response.
The extra protection these vaccines provide is particularly helpful to seniors who have weaker immune defenses and have a great risk of developing dangerous flu complications. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills an average of 24,000 — 80 to 90 percent of whom are seniors.
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But be aware that both the Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD are not recommended for seniors who are allergic to chicken eggs, or those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
You should also know that the CDC does not recommend one vaccination over the other, and to date, there have been no studies comparing the two vaccines.
If you decide you don’t want to get a senior-specific flu shot, there are other options available to people 65 years and older including the standard (trivalent) flu shot, the quadrivalent flu shot which protects against four different flu viruses, and the FluBlok vaccine for those who have egg allergies.
To locate a vaccination site that offers any of these flu shots, visit Vaccines.gov and type in your ZIP code. You’ll also be happy to know that as a Medicare beneficiary, Part B will cover 100 percent of the costs of any flu shot, as long as your doctor, health clinic or pharmacy agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays.
Two other important vaccinations the CDC recommends to seniors, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. Around 1 million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year, and about 50,000 people die from it.
The CDC is now recommending that all seniors 65 or older get two vaccinations — Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered one at a time, work in different ways to provide maximum protection.
If you haven’t yet received any pneumococcal vaccine you should get the Prevnar 13 first, followed by Pneumovax 23 six to 12 months later. But if you’ve already been vaccinated with Pneumovax 23, wait at least one year before getting the Prevnar 13.
Medicare Part B covers both shots, if they are taken at least 11 months apart.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”