Recommended vaccinations for seniors this flu season

Published 4:53 pm Monday, October 4, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior,

Outside of a seasonal flu shot, which I usually get, are public health officials recommending any additional vaccinations for seniors this flu season?

Cautious Carol

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Dear Carol,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actually recommending several vaccinations for seniors right now: One for seasonal flu; one for pneumonia; and depending on your age and living circumstances, a Tdap booster shot for whooping cough. Heres what you should know.

Seasonal Flu

Just like every other year, a seasonal flu shot is strongly urged by the CDC, especially for seniors age 65 and older, because they have the highest risks of developing dangerous complications. The flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills around 24,000 90 percent of whom are seniors.

You also need to know that this years seasonal flu vaccine will protect you against the H1N1 swine flu too, all in one shot. Seniors also will have the option this year of getting the new high-potency flu vaccine instead of a regular flu shot. This new FDA-approved vaccine known as the Fluzone High-Dose will help boost your immune response which will give you extra protection from influenza.

To locate vaccination sites near you, call your county health department or the CDC information line at 800-232-4636 or visit If youre a Medicare beneficiary, Part B will cover your flu vaccination, but if youre not covered you can purchase one at many retail pharmacy chains for around $25 to $30. (Note: if youre allergic to chicken eggs, have a history of Guillain-

Barr syndrome or have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past, you should not get vaccinated without consulting your doctor first. Or, if youre ill with a fever you should wait until your symptoms pass.)


The second vaccination the CDC is recommending to seniors is for pneumococcal pneumonia (the vaccine is called Pneumovax). Pneumonia causes around 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, many of which could be prevented by this vaccine. If youre over age 65 and havent already gotten this shot you should get it now before flu season hits. Also covered under Medicare Part B, a shot of Pneumovax will provide you protection that will last for up to 10 years, and you can get it on the same day that you get your flu shot.

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, formally known as pertussis, is on the rise this year with wide outbreaks in California and various other U.S. locations. Thats why the CDC is also recommending all adults, ages 19 through 64 get a one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine (it contains three vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) in place of the Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot. Even if youve had a Td booster within the recommended 10-year mark, you should still get a Tdap shot now for protection against whooping cough.

The Tdap vaccine, however, is not recommended to seniors age 65 and older unless youre around infant children, or are living in a community where a whooping cough outbreak occurs. The best move is to talk to your doctor about whats best for your specific situation. Medicare Part B does not cover the Tdap vaccine but some private health plans and many Medicare Part D prescription drug plans do. Be sure you check yours. If its not covered, a Tdap booster shot will cost you around $50 to $75.

Savvy Tips: In addition to getting vaccinated, the CDC reminds everyone that the three best ways to stay healthy during flu season is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and stay home if youre sick. For more information on the recommended vaccines for older adults see

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.