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UT Southwestern geriatrician recommends flu shots for those 65 and older as cases rise

Older adults, who are more susceptible to infection and hospitalization, should get a high-dose vaccine

Research shows that high-dose flu vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 24% in older adults compared with the standard dose.

DALLAS – Nov. 30, 2022 – With flu cases on the rise, geriatric specialists at UT Southwestern Medical Center say vaccinations are particularly important this year for people 65 and older who are more at risk from complications than other age groups. 

Deborah Freeland, M.D.

As we age, our immune system changes, making us more susceptible to infections like influenza. Older adults make up 70%-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States and account for 50%-70% of hospitalizations from influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even older adults who spend most of their time at home have family members or home health aides visit, providing opportunities for the influenza virus to spread. The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported a higher number of influenza-like illnesses statewide so far this season compared with recent years.

“It is important to take action now to prevent the possibility of severe infections, especially for populations at higher risk for complications, which includes older adults,” said geriatrician Deborah Freeland, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “Because the influenza virus changes over time, we need annual vaccinations to help protect against infection and reduce the severity of infection.”

Dr. Freeland recommends that those age 65 and older get a high-dose influenza vaccine. Research shows that high-dose vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 24% in older adults compared with the standard dose. In addition, the influenza vaccination is shown to lower the risk of heart attacks and death. It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, and flu season is already in full swing, so Dr. Freeland advises people to obtain the vaccine as soon as possible.

Wearing masks in crowded places and washing hands regularly are additional steps people can take to stay healthy. It’s also important for those living with older adults to get the flu vaccine to help decrease the spread of infection to groups at greater risk.

While some older adults refrain from getting the flu vaccine for fear of catching the flu, Dr. Freeland said vaccines cannot cause influenza infections. However, there can be side effects, including soreness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches, which typically resolve within 24-48 hours. UT Southwestern offers flu shots to patients at several locations; they are also available at local pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and other locations.   

“There is robust data behind the benefits of influenza vaccination,” Dr. Freeland said. “Get your flu vaccination today to protect yourself and those around you.”

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.