Dear Savvy Senior,
I understand that there are a number of different flu vaccines being offered to adults this flu season. What can you tell me about them?
Depending on your age, health and personal preference, there are six different ways to get immunized against influenza this year.
Just as they do every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a seasonal flu shot to almost everyone over the age of 6 months because it’s still the best protection against the flu.
If you get a flu shot, you’re 60 percent less likely to get the flu. And if you do happen to get it, you’re likely to have a milder case if you’ve been inoculated. The flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills on average about 24,000. Here’s the rundown on the different vaccines that are available this flu season:
Standard flu shot: This tried-and-true shot that’s been around for more than 30 years protects against three strains of influenza, and is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. This year’s version protects against the two common Type A strains H1N1 and H3N2, and one strain of Type B influenza virus.
Quadrivalent vaccine: New this year, this vaccine that protects against four types of influenza – the same three strains as the regular flu shot, plus an additional B-strain virus that primarily affects kids. Available to everyone 6 months and older, the quadrivalent shot will be available in limited supply this year, therefore it’s primarily recommended for children.
Fluzone High-Dose: Designed for seniors age 65 and older, this vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen – the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody – as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. The manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, says its research shows the shot to be 24 percent more effective in seniors.
Fluzone Intradermal: If you’re squeamish about needles, the intradermal shot is a nice option because it uses a tiny micro-needle to inject the vaccine just under the skin, rather than deeper in the muscle like standard flu shots. This year’s version will protect against three strains of influenza, and is recommended to those ages 18 to 64.
FluBlok: Created for people who are allergic to eggs who have had to skip their yearly flu shot. FluBlok is the first egg-free flu vaccine developed through cell technology from three flu strains cultured in caterpillar cells. This shot, however, is only recommended to younger adults between the ages of 18 and 49.
FluMist: This nasal spray vaccine protects against four strains of influenza, just like the quadrivalent shot, but it’s only recommended for those between age 2 and 49.
To locate a vaccination site that offers these options, ask your doctor or pharmacist, or check the online flu-shot locator at flushot.healthmap.org. Most chains like CVS, Walgreens, Safeway, Kmart, Walmart, Rite Aid and Kroger will offer the standard and high-dose shots, along with the flumist nasal spray. But because of limited supply, it may be a bit more difficult to locate the intradermal, quadrivalent or flublock vaccines.
You’ll also be happy to know that most health plans and Medicare will cover the cost of a flu shot. But if you’re not covered by insurance, you can expect to pay around $25 to $35 for a standard, intradermal or quadrivalent flu shot, or $50 to $60 for a shot of the high-dose or flublock.
For more information on the different flu vaccines, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/flu, or call 800-232-4636.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.