Are flu shots free for seniors like my dad? And are they really necessary?
Yes, a flu shot is free for seniors who carry Medicare Part B, which entitles them to receive a flu shot from a Medicare provider and pay no coinsurance or deductible. Most Medicare HMOs actually require their subscribers to receive a (free) flu shot. In addition to physicians, many senior centers and public health centers offer flu shots. Most Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) throughout the nation offer free flu vaccines; you can track down your local AAA by calling 1.800.677.1116. Remember that October and November are the prime months to receive flu shots.
Now for the second part of your question, are flu shots really necessary? If your Dad doesn’t want to be counted among the estimated 36,000 people who die every year from influenza, then it’s best he get the flu shot. Ninety percent of those who die from the flu are 65 and older because many older people have other medical conditions that easily become exacerbated by the flu. People with heart disease, lung conditions and diabetes are particularly susceptible. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that about 121,000 influenza-related hospitalizations occur every year.
Influenza is an extremely contagious respiratory condition easily spread from person to person by sneezes or coughs. Symptoms usually appear within two or four days of infection and you are contagious for three to four days after that. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population comes down with the flu each year, which means your Dad has a one in five chance of being exposed to someone with the flu. Pretty high odds, wouldn’t you say? The reason your Dad needs to receive a new vaccine every year is because the virus mutates from year to year. So the antibodies produced in response to the vaccine decline over time and are very low one year later.
Most of us know too well the dreaded symptoms of the flu: fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and muscle aches. It can also cause extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week. One of the clearest dangers for older people is the high risk of the flu developing into pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. For that reason, your dad should ask his physician whether or not he should also receive a one-time vaccination for pneumococcal pneumonia. If his physician prescribes the vaccine, it will be covered by Medicare.
The only people who should not get a flu shot, according to the National CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, are those who are severely allergic to hens’ eggs, have had severe reactions to a flu shot in the past, or developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting a flu shot. Side effects are rare, with the most common complaint being soreness around the injection site.