(BPT) - You want to stay healthy, so you can keep doing the things you love. That’s why it’s so important to stay up to date on recommended vaccines, like the updated COVID-19 vaccine and annual flu shot.
"Vaccination is a highly effective tool to help older Americans avoid the worst effects of infectious diseases," said Kathleen Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, senior director at the National Council on Aging (NCOA). “If you have questions about getting vaccinated, now is the ideal time to contact your health care provider."
Benefits of vaccinations
While no vaccine completely prevents you from becoming infected, COVID or flu symptoms are usually milder for those who have been vaccinated compared with those who are not. Vaccination also helps lower the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID or the flu. And because any vaccine's effectiveness diminishes over time, staying up to date on your vaccines is important to best protect yourself and your loved ones.
While COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, it remains a public health priority. And risk level increases with age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults are at higher risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 than younger age groups. Between January and August 2023, older adults accounted for about 63% of all COVID-associated hospitalizations.
The best way to protect yourself from these risks is to stay up to date with your vaccines. This means getting the latest COVID-19 vaccine, which has been updated to target the XBB.1.5 variant of the virus to broaden immunity. The CDC recommends everyone over age 5 receive one dose of the updated Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax vaccine to protect against serious illness from COVID-19. If you are immunocompromised, you may get additional doses of the updated COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about your vaccine schedule.
Each year, the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death from the flu is also greater among older adults. The CDC reports that 70-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in older adults, and up to 70% of flu hospitalizations happen among adults 65 and older.
Because flu viruses change every year, flu vaccines are updated every year to protect against the strain that research indicates will be most common. To protect yourself from severe illness due to the flu, the CDC recommends getting your annual flu shot this flu season.
Where to get vaccinated
NCOA is helping 150 senior centers and 180 community-based organizations across the country provide updated COVID and flu vaccines to older adults. The funding is provided by the U.S. Administration for Community Living.
You can get your vaccines at your health care provider or your nearest clinic or hospital. You also can contact your state health department or go to your local pharmacy. Another option is to visit Vaccines.gov to find a convenient location near you that offers COVID-19 or flu vaccines.
What do vaccines cost?
Most Americans can get COVID-19 and flu vaccines free of charge. If you're on Medicare, vaccines are covered by Medicare Part D at no cost to you. Most health insurance plans cover vaccines, but you should contact your insurer to confirm that. The CDC points out you may need to find a health care provider that's in your network for the cost to be covered, and there may be a copay when you receive a vaccine.
If you don't have health insurance or your health plan does not cover the cost, you can access free vaccines from local health centers, your state, local, tribal, or territorial health department, or at pharmacies participating in the CDC's Bridge Access Program.
"Because the FDA has a rigorous approval process to determine and monitor the safety and efficacy of COVID-19, flu, and other vaccines, you can feel confident getting vaccinated is a good option to help keep you healthy during the winter months," added Cameron. "Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received seasonal flu and COVID-19 vaccines and will continue to do so to safeguard their well-being."
Learn more about the importance of vaccines, their safety, and their effectiveness at ncoa.org/vaccines.