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Vaccination options for seniors this flu season

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 11:28 a.m. CDT

Dear Savvy Senior: Are there any new or different types of vaccines being recommended to seniors this flu season? — Health Conscious Carol

Dear Carol: There are actually several different types of flu shots available to seniors this year, along with a new FDA-approved shot for pneumonia. Here are your options. 

Flu Shots

Just as they do every year, the CDC strongly recommends a seasonal flu shot to almost everyone, but it’s especially important for seniors who are more vulnerable. The flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills around 24,000 — 90 percent of whom are seniors. 

This year, all seniors 65 and older have two flu vaccine options from which to choose. A traditional flu shot, or a shot of Fluzone High-Dose. The high-dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody) as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. 

And if you’re under age 65, your two options are a regular flu shot, or a shot of Fluzone Intradermal. The intradermal vaccine uses a shorter, thinner needle to inject the vaccine just under the skin, rather than deeper in the muscle like standard flu shots. If you’re squeamish about needles, this is a nice option. 

You also need to be aware that if you’re allergic to chicken eggs or if you have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past you should not get vaccinated without consulting your doctor first. 

To locate a vaccination site that offers regular, high-dose and intradermal flu shots, ask your doctor or pharmacist, or check the online flu-shot locator at flu.gov. Most chains like CVS, Walgreens, Safeway, Kmart, Walmart, Rite Aid and Kroger offer all types of shots.

You’ll also be happy to know that if you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Part B will cover 100 percent of the costs of any flu shot. But if you’re not covered, you can expect to pay around $25 to $35 for a regular or intradermal flu shot, or $50 to $60 for a shot of the high-dose.

Pneumonia Vaccine

The other important vaccination the CDC recommends to seniors — especially this time of year — is the pneumococcal vaccine for pneumonia and meningitis. Pneumococcal diseases hospitalize around 300,000 U.S. seniors each year, and kills around 5,000.  

The CDC currently recommends all seniors 65 or older get a one-time only shot of the vaccine Pneumovax, as well as those under 65 who smoke or have chronic health conditions like asthma, lung and heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system. 

Pneumovax, which protects against 23 strains of the pneumococcal disease, is also covered 100 percent under Medicare Part B, and you can get it on the same day you get your flu shot. If you’re not covered by insurance, this vaccine costs around $45 to $85 at retail clinics. 

You also need to know that this year, there’s an alternative pneumococcal vaccine available to people age 50 and older called Prevnar 13. This vaccine, which has been available to children for several years, may provide seniors longer lasting and better protection against pneumonia than Pneumovax.

Talk to your doctor to determine which pneumonia vaccine is best for you. 

Prevnar 13 is also covered by most insurers including Medicare Part B, but if you aren’t covered the shot runs between $100 and $150.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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