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The best gift you can give is to be vaccinated against the flu

by KIERA MARTIN and KEVIN W. CLEVELAND / Contributing Writers
| December 1, 2022 1:00 AM

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 percent of flu-related hospitalizations and approximately 80 percent 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 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 three 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 healthcare 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.

Kiera Martin is a third-year doctor of pharmacy student at Idaho State University College of Pharmacy. Kevin W. Cleveland is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Idaho State University College of Pharmacy.

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