“Aging is a Triumph, Not a Tragedy”
Shopping While Old

It's Flu Shot Time

For at least 25 years - more likely, 30 - when fall rolls around, I get a flu shot. As I have undoubtedly related in the past, the one year I neglected it, I was down for two weeks literally out of my head with fever and pain.

When I eventually came to my senses, there were two, empty, one-gallon jugs of water in the kitchen. Since New York City water is perfectly good and drinkable, I had never bought such things in the past and I had no memory of where they came from.

In my sick confusion, had I dragged myself to the corner bodega for them? And if so, why? Did a friend stop by to see how I was doing and leave them for me? I have no idea. No one ever mentioned such a visit to me and the empty water bottles became one of those little mysteries of life never to be solved.

But I have never forgotten how miserable I was for 14 straight days and that it was another month before I was fully healthy again, no longer dragging my ass through each day and sleeping 12 hours a night.

So when I was out and about yesterday on a variety of errands, I stopped by the pharmacy for my annual flu shot and this is my reminder to you to do so.

People 65 and older are among the high-risk people for flu because our age group suffers more serious complications from the disease than younger people. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains,

”It's estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older.

“This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age. So influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older.”

For elders, there are two choices of the vaccine – the regular one everyone else takes and the Fluzone High-Dose version. In studies, the high dose version appears to create a greater immune response but it is not yet known if this leads to greater protection.

The Fluzone High-Dose vaccine is as safe as the normal version but a slightly greater number of mild and temporary adverse effects have been reported during clinical trials. They include

”...pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle aches, fever and malaise. Most people had minimal or no adverse events after receiving the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine,” reports the CDC.

The high-dose shot is available only to people age 65 and older.

Certain people should not take the vaccine or should not take certain types of the vaccine. Among those who should avoid it altogether is anyone who has had a severe reaction to eggs in the past. (Small quantities of egg are used in the preparation of the vaccine.)

People who have had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past should not have it along with anyone with a history of Guillane-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

There is also a nasal spray flu vaccine that should NOT be given to anyone age 50 and older. You can see all the precautions and restrictions at this CDC page.

For those of us who are 65 and older, Medicare usually pays for the flu shot. As medicare.gov explains:

”You pay nothing for a flu shot if the doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts assignment for giving the shot, and the Part B deductible doesn't apply.

“If you get your flu shot from a doctor who doesn't accept assignment, you may have to pay an additional fee for the doctor's services, but not for the shot itself.”

As you probably know, the annual flu vaccine is made up of the three strains of influenza virus that experts believe will most likely hit the United States. Maybe they are correct and maybe not so it is important to take personal preventive action. Here are a few - this is common-sense stuff you have always known:

• Avoid contact with sick people

• If you get sick, avoid other people until your fever is gone

• Cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw away the tissue

• Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub

And if there are any TGB readers who haven't gotten the message yet that the anti-vaccine movement led by Jenny McCarthy has been thoroughly discredited and refuse the vaccine, keep your distance from me and from all old people. Please.

There is more day-to-day prevention advice at this CDC page [pdf]. Stay well this season, everyone.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Now


Thanks for the reminder, Ronni. I, too, will never forget an terrible bout with the flu that took me through Christmas one year. I had never been so sick..and no empty water bottles, but it was extra memorable because of the Christmas thing! I've never missed a flu shot since.

This is a terrific public service to remind elders to get the flu shot.

I wish you would also do a column on the need for elders to get the shingles vaccine. Trust me, nobody wants to get shingles.

I don't discourage anyone from getting a flu shot and in fact am glad you post on this each year Ronni. I'm 64 and I think only once in the past have I gotten a flu shot (in my 40's I think).

It's not that I have had bad reactions to them or think they are useless. I simply don't out of personal choice. I have been fortunate to this point but I will probably be inclined to seriously consider doing so once I get a little past age 65.

But this is just me and am not encouraging anyone else to do as I do.

Thanks for the reminder, Ronni. I did have a small reaction to the vaccine last year. All year I have avoided my much loved scrambled eggs, and this year I hope to have no reaction at all.

I, too, had the flu once--in my 20's and have been getting flu shots every year since whenever they started offering them. I still am plagued with allergies (over-active immune system), both a blessing and a curse because I'm sure my immune system protects me from many dread diseases; however, I had a reaction to the high dose shot last year (tongue-swelling, etc.). This year I will probably get one, but it will be the lower dose--and in a doctor's office with cortisone and epinephrine readily available.

I've also had the shingles vaccine. I had a friend who was crippled by shingles nerve damage and lived the rest of her life in severe pain that no drug could help.

Just got mine yesterday, too. Larry, please consider the people around you if you did get the flu. If you live your life as a hermit, maybe it doesn't matter so much. My husband used to resist getting the shots, but one bad cold a few years ago convinced him he didn't want the flu, too. I don't think 65 is a magic number. We are close enough. I know we all get to make our own choices, but this choice could affect so many others.

Thanks for the reminder Ronni, I see the signs are out at my pharmacy. I'd sure recommend the shingles vaccine. I got one but I'd had shingles twice, before 50 the first time. Miserable, miserable.

Thanks for the reminder. My HMO has several days set up for getting the flu shots and I just hope they don't happen while I am out of town.

I always get the flu shot and always remind my daughter to do so. She never listens and she always gets the flu. I hope this year will be different.

I had the flu in 1968 the year few people escaped it and again in 1988. I have not missed a flu shot since. However a friend sent me an eye opening article quoting three different studies about how the shot is not very useful for seniors. Since I remember well, even after all these years, the pain associated with the flu, I will still get the shot this year. I wanted to attached the article but didn't know how.

I always get a flu shot and plan to get one today. For anyone wavering about whether to get a flu shot, just think back to last year. The flu hit hard, and many very sick people turned up in emergency rooms at hospitals around the country. In some cases there were so many people that tent cities had to be put up to accomodate them all.

Many pharmacies, including those within Wal-Mart and other super-stores, offer flu shots with no appointment. Those same pharmacies generally offer shingles shots. (Got mine several years ago.)

Thanks Ronni. Signs are up at my pharmacy, too. I've been faithfully getting the flu shot for years. I also got the pneumonia vaccine and shingles immunization. Can't be too careful.

Perhaps my over-active immune system (rheumatoid disease) is protecting me or the immunity I developed working with little kids for so many years, but I seldom have a cold and never flu,since my twenties. I was only paranoid about getting someone's cold if I had a big, important concert coming up. Now, with almost every other part of my body breaking down like the "wonderful one-hoss shay,"I'm grateful for whatever I can get--or not get. I wish I could take the shingles vaccine, but can't because of the immune-suppressing drugs, but I do take the flu shot as soon as they are available and will continue to do so as long as I live.

I'll be getting my flu shot next Tuesday at my Kaiser clinic.

We get the flu shot every year. Elders shouldn't forget the pneumonia vaccine either.

And seriously consider the shingles vaccine. The effectiveness of vaccines are measured by those in public health in "quality-of-life" expressed in dollars per year.

These figures vary by age, so the $ figure is lower for a 60 y-o than an 80 y-o simply because the total benefit is spread out over more years, but the results of studies show that the shingles vaccine results in an *average* $100,000.00 annual increase in the quality of life. About 65% of elders who have shingles will experience intractable pain from the infected nerve pathways for the rest of their lives. So, the shingles vaccine is a wise investment.

Deb and others...
The pneumonia vaccine is no longer recommended for every five years. For elders, it is needed only once after age 65. This is from the Mayo Clinic but is repeated at other reputable medical websites:

"Doctors recommend a one-time vaccine against Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria (pneumococcus) for everyone older than age 65, as well as for people of any age residing in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and for smokers."

I'll be getting my Fluzone as soon as my pharmacy gets it.

Thanks, Ronni, for the clarification about the pneumonia vaccine (once after 65). I'm also under the impression that the shingles vaccine is a one-time thing. Having had a mild case of shingles at age 53, I cannot recommend the vaccine highly enough. It's not a disease you want to get -- ever.

PiedType and others...
The shingles vaccine is also a one-time need.

I get the flu shot every year and have been able to persuade my husband to get it, too, for the past three years. We both got the shingles vaccine last year.

Our problem is that our doctors do not receive the flu vaccines until late in the season -- does anyone know if all Walgreens stores offer the flu shots right now? We'd have to drive thirty miles to go to a Walgreens store (and thirty miles back), but it would be worth it to get the shots this early in the season.

Classof65 and others...
Pretty much every national chain of drug stores carry the flu vaccine as do regional grocery chains with drug stores.

You can check you local Walgreen's or other pharmacy online and if there is no notation at the pharmacy website, just give your local branch a phone call - they will have the information.

Dear Classof65, our local Walgreens (walla Walla) has shots now and says the others should. They said you might want to call ahead and find out what the hours are for whoever is delivering the shot. Bon voyage.

In my 20s I was hospitalized with the Hong Kong flu so I alway get the flu shot. Last year I asked for and got the high-dose vaccine at the pharmacy. Bad reaction--I take theophylline which is on the list of "tell your doctor if you take these." I'll opt for the regular vaccine this year.

Our HMO is usually a little late in stocking the flu vaccine, but my husband and I will be right in line as soon as it's available this year. We're believers (although not beliebers--sorry, Justin). We've already had the shingles and pneumonia vaccines.

Despite following the flu vaccination guidelines faithfully since turning 65, my husband (now 83) got very sick 3 years ago. No one is certain whether it started as the flu or a bad cold, but it evolved into a nasty, long-lasting case of bronchitis. Even if the flu vaccine may not be 100% effective, why take a chance?

A quick word to readers who may have contact with parents of school-age kids: please strongly encourage them to follow the federal recommendations for childhood vaccinations, especially what's known as tDap (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis). I almost died of whooping cough in 1940 at age 3. I'll never forget the endless coughing and difficulty breathing that lasted for 6 WEEKS!

I am 78 this month and have had flu shots for years. Guess I will again this year.

Ronni--What a laugh I received from your water tale. I laughed, remembering that in 1980, I ended up in the US Navy Reserves because of the flu. In my delirium, I (later learned) that I had written a letter to my local recruiter. Within six days (and one day before I would have been too old at age 42) I was enlisted!

I've had flu shots each year since being old enough. In the 1990s, one could only have a flu shot if they fell into an at-risk category which included various ailments (that I did not have) or being elderly. I will, however, wait four-to-six more weeks for my shot as it is only effective for about six months.

BTW: Unlike previous years, I believe that this year's shots are formulated for four strains of flu.

Once upon a time I was not too bright. I looked forward to getting the flu ---

Each time I got the flu --usually about every seven years --- I was sick enough to discontinue smoking and each time I made a decision to stop smoking for a year and then decide if I would start smoking again or not.

After the third bout with flu --- I was able to give up smoking forever.

It turned out to be a good decision 18 years ago because I haven't had the flu since(knock on wood).

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