Flu and pneumonia shots offer double protection for seniors

Excerpt: Flu and pneumonia shots for older adults are especially important this fall to protect their own health, the health of others and to keep the Canadian healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed in a pandemic. The high-dose flu vaccine is an option to consider because it offers seniors stronger protection. Getting a pneumonia shot is also recommended to reduce the risk of pneumonia, an important cause of hospital emergency visits.

To breathe easier this fall and winter, it is especially important for older adults to get vaccinated against both the flu and pneumonia for their own health and the health of others.

Health authorities are urging Canadians to get a flu shot this fall to avoid a “twindemic,” in which large numbers of people become seriously ill, or hospitalized, as influenza and COVID-19 circulate at the same time,*” says the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. While the flu shot doesn’t directly protect people against COVID-19, it’s vital for older adults and those with high-risk conditions to protect themselves against the flu since hospitals and other healthcare facilities could become overwhelmed if they need to treat both flu and COVID-19 patients.*

Being vaccinated for the flu could also help reduce unnecessary testing for COVID-19* since many symptoms of both illnesses—such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffed nose, and muscle aches—are similar,* according to Mayo Clinic.

High-dose flu shot gives added protection

Older adults are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu because the immune system weakens with age,* says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu infection can also worsen long-term health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, and asthma.*

Flu shots reduce the risks of seniors getting the flu, developing serious complications, and infecting others,* says Government of Canada Public Health Services. To protect against the flu and possible complications, seniors 65 and over should either get a regular flu shot or the inactivated Fluzone® High-Dose vaccine* before the influenza season starts, advises HealthLink BC.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that older adults get the inactivated high-dose flu vaccine because it can provide better protection than other flu vaccines.* It contains four times the antigen of a standard-dose vaccine. The antigen is the vaccine part that helps the body build up protection against the disease and the extra antigen creates a stronger immune response in older people for better protection.*

Vaccination helps prevent pneumonia

Pneumonia results in about 135,000 Canadian emergency hospital visits each year,* according to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends everyone over 65 get a pneumonia shot, which can help prevent bacterial pneumonia, the most common type.* That’s especially important during a pandemic to reduce cases of both pneumonia and flu, which could strain the healthcare system and jeopardize care for anyone with a serious respiratory illness.

The pneumonia vaccine that protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria is recommended for older adults,* advises NACI and HealthLink BC. A second pneumonia vaccine that protects against 13 different strains* is also available for older adults at high risk of infection.

Talk to your doctor about which flu and pneumonia vaccines are right for you.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. CBC, “Getting a flu shot during the COVID-19 era: Here’s what you need to know.” (2020), online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/flu-vaccine-covid-19-twindemic-what-you-need-to-know-1.5709559

2. Mayo Clinic. “Coronavirus vs. flu: Similarities and differences.” (2020), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-vs-flu/art-20490339

3. Healthline. Flu risk factors and complications. (2019), online: https://www.healthline.com/health/flu-risk-factors

4. Government of Canada. “Flu (influenza): Get your flu shot.” (2019), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza/get-your-flu-shot.html

5. Immunize BC. “Influenza.” (2020), online: https://immunizebc.ca/influenza

6. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “Why everyone over 65 should get the pneumonia vaccine.” (2019), online: https://health.sunnybrook.ca/navigator/why-everyone-over-65-should-get-the-pneumonia-vaccine/

7. Public Heath Agency of Canada. “An advisory committee statement (ACS) National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Update on the use of pneumococcal vaccines in adults 65 years of age and older – A public health perspective.” (2018), online: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/publications/healthy-living/update-on-the-use-of-pneumococcal-vaccines-in-adult/update-on-the-use-of-pneumococcal-vaccines-in-adult-eng.pdf

8. HealthLink BC. “Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine.” (2017), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/pneumococcal-polysaccharide-vaccine

9. HealthLink BC “Pneumococcal vaccines.” (2020), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/medications/tv8594