Flu shot time, seniors need revved-up shots

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Doctors have a message for vaccine-weary Americans: Don’t skip your flu shot this fall — and seniors, ask for a special extra-strength kind.

After flu hit historically low levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be poised for a comeback. The main clue: A nasty flu season just ended in Australia.

While there’s no way to predict if the U.S. will be as hard-hit, last year experts didn’t know if the flu season was going to hit at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, experts say flu is back.

“Not only that overall we just haven’t been exposed to as much so the population immunity has dropped, but we’ve got kids who are now two years older getting their first exposure to flu than typical,” says influenza specialist Richard Webby of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Annual flu shots are recommended starting with 6-month-old babies. Flu is most dangerous for people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health problems including heart and lung diseases.

This year, people 65 or older are urged to get a special kind of flu shot for extra protection. As people get older, their immune system doesn’t respond as strongly to standard flu vaccination.

There are three choices. Fluzone High-Dose and Flublok each contain higher doses of the main anti-flu ingredient. The other option is Fluad Adjuvanted, which has a regular dosage but contains a special ingredient that helps boost people’s immune response.

Seniors can ask what kind their doctor carries. But most flu vaccinations are given in pharmacies and some drugstore websites, such as CVS, automatically direct people to locations offering senior doses if their birth date shows they qualify.

Webby advised making sure older relatives and friends know about the senior shots, in case they’re not told when they seek vaccination.

If a location is out of senior-targeted doses, it’s better to get a standard flu shot than to skip vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.