For older adults, when should you get the flu vaccine?

Senior woman prepares to receive a flu vaccine. (Getty)

As summer draws to a close, you start to see and hear more about the flu shot. And, especially if you’re 65 or older, you hear a lot about the importance of getting the flu vaccine. What’s even more critical, however, is the timing.

When should you get it?

While the CDC’s general recommendation is that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, older adults should get their vaccinations a little later, just before or around Thanksgiving. Vaccine-induced immunity wanes faster in older adults, so by waiting a few weeks for vaccination, protection can be extended further into the winter months, when flu is most likely to be spreading. The right timing for the flu vaccine is especially important for older adults, who are at a higher risk. Flu season typically runs from October to May.

Since the human immune system weakens with age, the flu poses a greater risk to people 65 years and older, presenting more serious complications when compared with young, healthy adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over six months of age receive a flu vaccination annually. The vaccination has been shown to reduce deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and lengths of stay, and the overall duration of hospitalization for flu patients. The greatest benefits of the vaccine have been observed among people 65 years of age and older.

“If people get the vaccine too early, for example – August or September, the immunity wanes in February or March when the likelihood of contracting the flu may be higher,” says Dr. George Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging. “People really need to understand the criticality of timing to ensure protection during the worst part of the season.”

On average, between 50 and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people 65 years and older, and approximately 70 to 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths are within this age group, as well. Getting the flu vaccine reduces flu illnesses and more serious outcomes.

Older adults should follow the preventative guidelines outlined for everyone:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth to stop the spread of germs.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Practice good health habits.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness and have a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

To learn more, visit the UConn Center on Aging.