Flu shots for older people could be harder to come by in 2020
As health officials promote a flu vaccine as more important than ever this year, in the middle of a global health crisis, older individuals in the Garden State could have a harder time getting their hands on immunizations crafted specifically for their age group.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend one type of flu vaccine over another for 65+ individuals — they can receive the same shot as anyone 6 months and older — but there are two vaccines designed specifically for the nation's older residents.
Health professionals and older consumers have noted to New Jersey 101.5, anecdotally, that these specific vaccinations appear to be in higher demand as we head toward the colder months.
People aged 65 and older have two unique options beyond a standard influenza vaccine — one is a high-dose version, and the other includes an additive (MF59 adjuvant) that can create a stronger immune response. The specifically-designed vaccines exist because senior citizens are at the highest risk for flu-related deaths.
"Even if older people are having a hard time locating the high-dose or adjuvanted vaccine, it's important to note that any flu vaccine indicated for their age group is fine," Dr. Tina Tan, state epidemiologist with the Department of Health, told New Jersey 101.5.
The adjusted vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can accompany standard flu shots, such as muscle ache and malaise, according to the CDC. The health agency and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices haven't expressed a preference for any one vaccine for older individuals — the CDC just recommends flu vaccination as the most important step in protecting one's self against the contagious respiratory illness.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, getting that protection is more important than ever, the CDC advises.
"It's important that individuals talk with their healthcare provider about what might be the best vaccine option for them," Tan said.
The Department of Health has indicated that there should be enough doses available to cover the population of New Jersey that wants to be vaccinated. The Garden State is receiving an additional 440,000 doses this year.
"It's really important that people try to get the vaccine as soon as they can if that haven't already, particularly by the end of October," Tan said. "But as long as flu is circulating, it's never too late to get the vaccine."