It’s flu season – and the Minnesota Department of Health is urging everyone to get the flu shot.
“I think it’s really important that people prepare for the worst and get vaccinated,” says Jennifer Heath, supervisor of MDH’s vaccine-preventable diseases section.
But this year, people aged 65 and over are advised to get the extra-strength flu shot.
“Older and older people tend not to have as good an immune response to vaccines as younger people,” says Heath. “Older and older people have worse outcomes with the flu than younger people.”
The Centers for Disease Control say there are three — what you might call — “super-vaccines” recommended for older people.
Fluzone High-Dose and Flu-Blok each contain up to four times the normal flu ingredient.
Fluad adjuvant contains compounds that provide better protection than standard vaccines.
“All three produce high levels of immunity,” says Dr. Frank Rhame, infectious disease physician at Allina Health.
He says that as people age, their immune systems need a boost.
“It gives you a higher level of immunity,” Rhame says. “One of them has twice as many antigens. Antigen is what makes us produce antibodies.
Health experts are closely watching the number of flu cases this year – as in the past two years those numbers have dropped – including historic levels during the pandemic.
“We really haven’t seen the flu for a few years,” Heath notes. “People here took COVID precautions, and now we don’t as often. And so we might see a bad flu year here too.
She says a bad flu season in Australia can be an indicator of what will happen here – or not.
“We can look at Australia and the southern hemisphere and get a clue,” says Heath. “But sometimes that doesn’t play out here.”
The CDC recommends flu shots starting with babies six months old.
Doctors say a decline in population immunity could particularly affect children.
“Not only overall, we just haven’t been exposed to that much, so population immunity has plummeted,” says Dr Richard Webby, flu specialist at St. Jude in Memphis. “We have children who are now two years old and are exposed to the flu for the first time than usual.”
Experts say the flu is most dangerous for people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women and people with health conditions like heart and lung disease.
The health department says you can check with your local pharmacy for the availability of extra-strength injections.
If a location is off extra-strength doses, the CDC says it’s better to get the standard flu shot than to skip it.
The agency says it’s okay to get the flu and COVID shots at the same time.
If you have any questions, experts say you should consult your doctor.
Meanwhile, Heath encourages everyone to get vaccinated.
“Even healthy young adults get the flu every year, and healthy young adults die from the flu every year,” she says. “So it’s really important that everyone gets the flu shot.”