Flu in older adults

Flu in older adults

Catching flu is unpleasant for most people. If you get the flu but are in good health overall, it will usually clear up on its own in about a week. However, for many among vulnerable groups, including older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying health condition, flu can cause severe illness such as bronchitis and pneumonia and even death.

Typically, people 65 years and older are at higher risk of developing  serious complications from flu compared with young, healthy adults. This risk is partly attributed to changes in the immune system with increasing age.

During the flu season, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe illness. It has been estimated that over recent years, approximately 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations including several deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older. Studies have consistently found that flu vaccine has been effective in reducing the risk of medical visits and hospitalizations associated with flu. For those who do get sick despite taking the vaccine, the severity of illness in people has been shown to be reduced.

When am I most at risk from flu?

Flu circulates every winter, generally peaking in December and January; when many people get ill around the same time. The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to the end of November. But if you miss it you can always request to have one after this time frame.

Which type of flu vaccine should I have?

Adults aged 65 and over will be offered either an adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine grown in eggs (aTIV) or a cell-grown quadrivalent injected vaccine (QIVc) – both vaccines are considered to be equally suitable.

For more information on types of flu vaccines, click here.

How long does the flu vaccine take to become effective?

It takes between 10 and 14 days for your immune system to respond fully after you have had the flu vaccine.

Can the flu vaccine cause flu?

No. The injected flu vaccine cannot cause flu because there are no active viruses in the vaccine.

Where can I get my flu vaccine?

You can have your free GHA flu vaccine at:

  • The Primary Care Centre
  • From the district/immunisation nurse who visits you at home

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus that can cause unpleasant illness in children and severe illness and death among at-risk groups. Studies have shown that the flu vaccine will help prevent you getting the flu.

The vaccine, however will not stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary. If you do get flu after vaccination, it is likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.

How often do I need the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are updated each season as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Immunity from vaccination fully sets in after about two weeks. As immunity wanes over a year, an annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against flu. Flu vaccines for 2020-2021 have been updated from last season’s vaccine to better match current circulating viruses.

How safe is the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccines used in the local immunisation programme have a good safety record and serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. 

You may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the vaccine, and your arm may be a bit sore at the site of the injection.

It is rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination. The person who vaccinates you is trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

Flu Vaccine Reduces Risk of Flu Illness and Serious Outcomes