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Are Flu Shots Leaving the Elderly Unprotected This Year?

Friday, February 22 2013

By Daniel Haight, MD,  Associate Vice President of Community Health, Lakeland Regional Medical Center

According to several news reports, this year’s flu vaccine has not been very effective in protecting people over the age of 65, which has left many people concerned and wondering why. It’s important to understand that flu, by its very nature, is unpredictable.

Influenza has always been known to have good seasons, in which the virus impacts relatively few people, and bad seasons, in which the virus becomes widespread. The virus also mutates, or changes, from year to year so the vaccine must also change to protect against the virus that is circulating each season.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the flu virus, many of us have probably met flu-vaccinated people who still became ill and tested positive for influenza, particularly in past flu seasons when the vaccine didn’t match well with the circulating virus. Many health experts believe that the vaccine is still helpful to people who get the flu by reducing the severity and length of their illness.

While this year’s vaccine accurately matched the current flu viruses circulating, older people’s immune systems have had a harder time resisting the virus. It’s important to remember that some protection is better than no protection, particularly for seniors who are especially vulnerable to the flu.

It will be interesting to see if the more potent vaccine available this year for the elderly did better than the regular vaccine. Also, be on the lookout next year for newer flu vaccine options.

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