Dear Savvy Senior: I understand that there are several types of flu vaccines being offered to seniors this flu season. What can you tell me about them? — Cautious Senior
Dear Cautious: Depending on your health, age and personal preference, there’s a buffet of flu shots available to seniors this flu season, along with two vaccinations for pneumonia that you should consider getting too.
Flu Shots Options
Just as they do every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a seasonal flu shot to almost everyone, but it’s especially important for seniors who are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. The flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills around 24,000 — 90 percent of whom are seniors. Here’s the rundown of the different options:
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Standard (trivalent) flu shot: This tried-and-true shot that’s been around for more than 30 years protects against three strains of influenza. This year’s version protects against the two common A strains (H1N1 and H3N2), and one influenza B virus.
Quadrivalent flu shot: This vaccine, which was introduced last year, protects against four types of influenza — the same three strains as the standard flu shot, plus an additional B-strain virus.
High-dose flu shot: Designed specifically for seniors, age 65 and older, this vaccine, called the Fluzone High-Dose, has four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. But, be aware that the high-dose option might also be more likely to cause side effects, including headache, muscle aches and fever.
Intradermal flu shot: If you don’t like needles, the intradermal shot is a nice option because it uses a tiny 1/16-inch long micro-needle to inject the vaccine just under the skin, rather than deeper in the muscle like standard flu shots. This trivalent vaccine is recommended only to those ages 18 to 64.
To locate a vaccination site that offers these flu shots, go to vaccines.gov and type in your ZIP code. You also will be happy to know that if you’re 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. Private health insurers also are required to cover standard flu shots, however, you’ll need to check with your provider to see if they cover the other vaccination options.
The other important vaccinations the CDC recommends to seniors, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. An estimated 900,000 people in the U.S. get pneumococcal pneumonia each year, and it kills around 5,000.
This year, the CDC is recommending that all seniors 65 or older get two separate vaccines, which is a change of decades-old advice. The vaccines are Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Previously, only Pneumovax 23 was recommended for seniors.
Both vaccines, which are administered just once, 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 you should get Prevnar 13 at least one year later.
Medicare currently covers only one pneumococcal vaccine per older adult. If you’re paying out of pocket, you can expect to pay around $50-$85 for Pneumovax 23, and around $120-$150 for the Prevnar 13.