"With few exceptions, there really is no reason for seniors not to get their vaccines, including their flu and pneumonia vaccines."
Maine's Flu Season is in Full Swing - Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine Urges Seniors to Get Flu and Pneumonia Vaccines.
While the seasonal flu can be very serious for patients of any age, senior citizens are particularly vulnerable.
That's why Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine is reminding seniors across the state to get their annual flu and pneumonia vaccinations.
"As people age, it becomes more difficult for them to fight illness," says Jeffrey Holmstrom, D.O., medical director, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine. "As a result, older adults are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications, including pneumonia, hospitalization and even death." According to Flu.gov, a website collaboration of several government agencies, 90 percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older. Fortunately, seniors can take measures to protect themselves by being vaccinated against both the flu and pneumonia.
Dr. Holmstrom added that, "With few exceptions, there really is no reason for seniors not to get their vaccines, including their flu and pneumonia vaccines. Studies have shown that these vaccines are generally safe and effective. They are also easy to get and typically paid for by Medicare. Yet statistics show us that about a third of seniors don't get these much-needed vaccines. That's something we've got to change."
Dr. Holmstrom, who in addition to serving as Anthem's medical director, maintains an active primary care medical practice, provided the following tips about vaccines and cold and flu season:
Consider Getting A "Double Dose":
Even some people who get the flu vaccine forget to get the pneumonia vaccine. According to the CDC, seniors should really get both, and the good news is they can get them at the same time. However, there are some differences between the vaccines. The flu shot needs to be administered annually. This year's version includes protection against the 2009 H1N1 virus and two other flu viruses: Influenza A H3N2 and Influenza B. In contrast, most people will need to get the pneumonia vaccine only once, although under some circumstances a second dose may be given, according to the CDC.
A Covered Benefit:
Getting vaccinated is easy for Medicare beneficiaries and their pocketbooks. Most people get the vaccines at their primary care physician's office. Additionally, many flu vaccine clinics open to the public are offered across the country. The costs of both vaccines and their administration are generally covered by Medicare Part B, as long as the provider accepts assignment.
Think Safety First:
Flu shots are inactivated vaccines containing killed viruses - they aren't live so they can't cause infection, according to flu.gov. Manufacturers kill the viruses while making the vaccine and batches are tested to ensure safety. Similarly, the pneumonia vaccine is made from a bacterial component that is not infectious. A flu mist made from a weakened form of the virus is also available but not recommended for seniors, according to the CDC.
Dr. Holmstrom also wants to dispel a common myth when it comes to flu shots. "Many people fear they will get the flu or pneumonia from the vaccine and that just isn't the case, according to the CDC," he said.
It's Never Too Late:
It's a good idea to get the flu vaccine as soon as it's available, which is in the fall. However, since influenza activity typically doesn't peak until January or February, it's still a good idea to get the vaccine now. National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) was established to highlight the importance of continuing vaccination later into the season. This year's NIVW was held Dec. 5-11, 2010. For its part, the pneumonia vaccine is offered year round.
Follow Doctor's Orders:
Even though flu and pneumonia vaccines are recommended for seniors - and many others - there are some exceptions so be sure to follow your doctor's orders. For example, flu vaccines are not recommended for people severely allergic to chicken eggs or those who had a bad reaction in the past.
According to the CDC, the flu spreads mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. For that reason, it's a good idea to avoid close contact with infected people and to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. Other good flu-fighting tips, according to the CDC, include maintaining healthy habits, such as washing hands with soap and water, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of liquids and eating nutritious foods.
For more information about the dangers of flu and the benefits of vaccinations, talk to a health care provider or visit www.cdc.gov. A list of flu clinics is available by going to www.flu.gov and entering one's zip code.