This year, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever. Firstly, it can protect you and the people around you from the flu. Secondly, it can reduce the strain on our healthcare system responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirdly, some people, including adults 65 and over (and their caregivers), are at higher risk for serious flu complications. With the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and James Gilbert, MD, our chief medical officer (CMO), the Aspire Health Plan team has put together a list of questions (and answers) for seniors heading into the 2020-2021 influenza (flu) season.
1. When should I get the flu vaccine?
The best time to get a flu shot is by the end of October. For older adults, getting it too early (July or August) could mean that immunity wears off later on in the season. But even if you don’t get it by the end of October, it is better to get it later than not be protected at all.
2. Is there a special, age-appropriate vaccine for adults ages 65 and over?
The CDC recommends that older adults get a flu shot, not a nasal spray vaccine. There is a high-dose flu vaccine which the CDC recognizes and also references a few studies demonstrating benefit, but they do not give a blanket recommendation for all adults ages 65 and older. What does this mean? “While there is some evidence of an increased effectiveness of the high-dose vaccine, it may also be associated with more common and/or more severe reactions”, says Dr. James Gilbert, CMO, Aspire Health Plan. “We’d suggest that you discuss it with your personal physician and receive the vaccine at their office if recommended.” Most importantly —whichever vaccine is available to you and/or recommended — GET A FLU VACCINE NOW!
3. Does Medicare (or my Medicare Advantage plan) cover the flu vaccine?
Yes – the flu shot is covered for people with Original Medicare and also Medicare Advantage (MA). If you have an Aspire Health Plan MA plan, we cover both the regular and high-dose flu vaccine.
4. What is the difference between the flu and COVID-19?
While the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by two different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the flu is caused by influenza viruses. The two illnesses have some similar symptoms, which could make it tough to tell the difference between, but the correct diagnosis can be confirmed easily by simple testing. This table from the CDC is the most up-to-date resource for comparing the two.
5. Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19?
While the flu vaccine dramatically reduces illness, hospitalization and death from influenza, it does not offer protection from the current coronavirus. It is also important to have the reassurance that getting a flu vaccine will NOT make it any more likely to get the coronavirus or make you sicker if you were to get the virus.
6. Is it safe to get a flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, receiving the vaccine is safe — as is going to the places that administer the vaccine. Doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies that offer the flu vaccine are required to follow CDC guidelines to ensure your safety. These include requirements that patients and staff wear a face covering and practice social distancing in waiting areas. If you have any questions about this, ask your doctor, pharmacist or health department if they are following CDC’s vaccination pandemic guidance.
If you have any further questions about the flu vaccine for the 2020-2021 influenza (flu) season, contact your primary care provider (PCP) directly or give Aspire Health Plan’s Member Services team a call at (855) 570-1600. TTY users call 711.