Health agencies recommending an extra strength flu vaccine for seniors 65 and older

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It’s flu season — and the Minnesota Department of Health is urging everyone to get vaccinated.

“I think it’s really important for people to prepare for the worst, and get their vaccine,” says Jennifer Heath, the supervisor of MDH’s vaccine-preventable disease section.

But this year, seniors 65 and older are being advised to get an extra-strength flu shot.

“Seniors and older people tend to not have as good an immune response to vaccines as younger people do,” Heath explains. “Older people and seniors have worse outcomes from influenza than younger people do.”

The Centers for Disease Control says there are three — what you could call — “super-vaccines” recommended for seniors.

Fluzone High-Dose and Flu-Blok each contain up to four times the normal anti-flu ingredient.

Fluad Adjuvanted contains compounds that provide better protection than standard vaccines.

“All three of these produce high levels of immunity,” says Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease physician with Allina Health.

He says as people age, their immune systems need a boost.

“It gives you a stronger level of immunity,” Rhame says. “One of them’s got twice the amount of antigen in it. Antigen is what makes us produce antibodies.”

Health experts are watching this year’s influenza case numbers closely — because for the past two years, those numbers have fallen — including historic levels during the pandemic.

“We really haven’t seen flu for a couple of years,” Heath notes. “People here have been taking COVID precautions, and now we don’t do that as often. And so we could possibly see a bad flu year here too.”

She says a nasty flu season in Australia may be an indicator of what’s to come here — or not.

“We can look at Australia and the Southern Hemisphere and get a clue,” Heath says. “But sometimes that doesn’t play out up here.”

The CDC recommends flu shots starting with six-month-old babies.

Doctors say a dropping population immunity could especially affect children.

“Not only overall we just haven’t been exposed to as much, so the population immunity has dropped,” says Dr. Richard Webby, an influenza specialist at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. “We have kids that are now two years old getting their first exposure to flu than typical.”

Experts say the flu is most dangerous for people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women and people with health problems like heart and lung diseases.

The health department says you can check with your local pharmacy about availability of the extra-strength shots.

If a location is out of the extra-strength doses, the CDC says it’s better to get a standard flu shot than to go without.

The agency says it’s okay to get your flu and COVID shots at the same time.

If you have questions — experts say you should check with your doctor.

Meanwhile — Heath encourages everyone to get vaccinated.

“Even young, healthy adults get flu disease every year, and young healthy adults die from influenza every year,” she says. “So, really important for everybody to get flu vaccine.”