The CDC estimates that each year, approximately 90% of flu-related deaths, and 50%-70% of flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. occur in people 65 years of age and older. Influenza is highly contagious, and anyone can get the flu no matter how healthy they feel.
As you get older, your immune system typically gets weaker—regardless of your current health. With your body’s defense system on the decline, your risk for catching the flu and developing flu-related complications increases. Chronic conditions also increase the risk for serious complications.
Yearly vaccination is the best way to help protect yourself from the flu. Since different flu shots are approved for people at different ages, it’s important to remember there are stronger flu vaccine options for older adults. Flu vaccines have been shown to be 80% effective in preventing flu-related death among seniors.
It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, but you can benefit from the vaccine even if you don’t get it until after the flu season starts. It’s usually best for people in the United States to get their flu vaccine by the end of October. However, you can still protect yourself against late flu outbreaks if you get the vaccine in February or later.
Flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s viruses. New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses. When you get vaccinated, your immune system produces antibodies to protect you from the viruses included in the vaccine. But antibody levels may decline over time — another reason to get a flu shot every year.