Flu: Adults 65+ at Greatest Risk for Serious Complications

An article from the UVM Health Network 2019 Flu Education series

With Brianne Jeror, NP, University of Vermont Health Network
Alice Hyde Medical Center, Primary Care


Another flu season is right around the corner. A seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect against it and any potentially serious complications.

Immunity can take up to two weeks to develop after getting the vaccine, so getting your flu shot and helping to protect your friends, family and loved ones from seasonal influenza is everyone’s responsibility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year, with rare exceptions. But for some groups, seasonal influenza is particularly dangerous.

What Flu Means for Adults 65 & Over

Compared with young, healthy adults, older individuals are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu. This is because our immune systems become weaker as we age, leaving older people at higher risk of contracting the flu, regardless of how intense or severe this year’s season turns out to be.

Higher Risk of Hospitalization

Older individuals aren’t just at risk of contracting the flu. Research has also shown they are more prone to be hospitalized after coming down with influenza.

The authors of a 2013 study that evaluated the effectiveness of influenza vaccination programs estimated that between 50 and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occurred in people age 65 or older. Another study, published in 2017, found that the seasonal influenza vaccines reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and the overall duration of hospitalization among flu patients — particularly among those 65 years of age and older.

Higher Dose Flu Vaccine

Because the immune systems of older individuals are not as robust as those of younger folks, a high dose vaccine has been developed, containing a larger dose of the flu antigen, which can create a stronger immune response and help an aging immune system create more antibodies after receiving the vaccine.

How to Prevent the Flu

It's also important that family members and caregivers get a seasonal flu vaccine, to help protect the older adults they support or come into contact with.

Other preventative measures to help protect from seasonal flu include:

  •   • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  •   • Staying home from work, school and errands when you are sick.
  •   • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  •   • Regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitizer.

Be sure to contact your primary care provider to discuss which type of vaccination is right for you and learn more about how you can best protect yourself and those around you from seasonal influenza.