Vaccines are a crucial part of keeping individuals with compromised immune systems healthy. Very young children and the elderly are the most susceptible to infectious diseases like influenza. Seniors, their caregivers and other family members should take care to receive a flu shot annually.

There are a number different vaccine options available to the public, so it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you or your loved one.

Flu Vaccine Options

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year soon after it becomes available, and by October if possible. Although there are many different vaccination options available, including a nasal spray form and innoculation via jet injection, individuals age 65 and older only have two choices: the regular dose vaccine and the high-dose vaccine.

Both of these options are tivalent vaccines, which means they protect against the same three strains of the influenza virus. These two options are also intramuscular injections, meaning they use a standard-sized needle to deliver the serum, typically into the deltoid muscle of the arm. Older adults are not approved to receive intradermal versions of these vaccinations, which use smaller needles and a reduced dosage of antigen.

High-Dose Flu Vaccine

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the high-dose version of this vaccine was created because human immune defenses become weaker with age, placing older people at greater risk of severe illness from influenza. Also, aging decreases the body's ability to create a robust immune response after receiving a vaccine.

The high-dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen compared to the standard vaccine. Antigens prompt the creation of antibodies, and increasing this dosage is intended to give older people a better immune response and therefore better protection against the flu virus. Vaccinating against influeza may also help protect older individuals from contracting pneumonia and experiencing other dangerous complications.

The CDC recommends that people talk with their doctor to determine which vaccine is best for them. Individuals who have had adverse reactions to the standard vaccine are discouraged from receiving the high-dose version.

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According to clinical trials that compared the standard vaccine (Fluzone) to Fluzone High-Dose among persons aged 65 years or older, the high-dose variation resulted in a stronger immune response (i.e. higher antibody levels). Whether or not the improved immune response leads to greater protection against influenza after vaccination is still a subject of ongoing research.

Medicare Part B typically covers one flu shot each season. All Health Insurance Marketplace plans cover these vaccines, and most private plans cover them without requiring a copayment or coinsurance. Since viruses are constantly changing and evolving, revaccination each year with updated serums is highly recommended.

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