Senior Flu Shots: Why a Higher Dose Vaccine Is More Effective

  • Seniors may receive the standard flu pill, but it may not be as effective, as people over 65 years of age have a weakened immune system.
  • A high-dose flu vaccine that has four times more antigen than a regular flu shot is a better option for seniors.
  • Seniors can also receive an adjunctive flu vaccine, which contains a substance that increases the shot’s efficacy for seniors.
  • This article is reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, was done by a family medicine physician and a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
  • For more advice visit Insider’s Health Reference Library.

Every year 63% of adults in the US receive the flu vaccine to prevent influenza, a respiratory virus that causes fever, cough, and runny nose.

The flu vaccine works well for young people, but senior vaccines may require special vaccines to achieve the same protection as they are at greater risk of developing serious complications from pneumonia such as the flu.

Here you need to know which vaccines are best for protecting seniors from the flu.

Can seniors get a normal flu pill?

Getting a standard flu shot is helpful for people over 65 because it reduces the risk of developing a serious infection that can lead to hospitalization.

So, if a normal flu shot is available, it is far better than the flu. However, a normal flu shot may not be as effective for seniors, says Laura Haynes, PhD, a professor of immunology at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.

This is because the flu vaccine introduces the antigen as a small, inactive dose of the influenza virus. These antigens enter your bloodstream and trigger an immune response that ramps up the production of disease-fighting cells in your body called antibodies that are specifically designed to fight the flu.

But as you age, your immune system weakens, making it harder for your body to produce enough antibodies to effectively prevent infection. This is why there are other flu shots designed specifically for people over 65.

Types of flu shots for seniors

There are two types of vaccines that the CDC recommends for people over 65: the high-dose flu vaccine, also known as fluzone, and the adjuvant flu vaccine, known as fluid. You can get both high-dose and adjunctive flu vaccines at your doctor’s office, but you can also find high-dose vaccines at pharmacy clinics like CVS.

There have been no studies comparing high-dose and adjunctive flu vaccines, and the CDC does not state any preference as to which vaccines to use. However, some doctors may prefer the high-dose vaccine, as it has been in use since 2009, while more recently vaccines came out in 2015.

High dose flu vaccine

High-dose flu vaccines contain 4 times as many antigens as regular flu shots, and are available exclusively to people over 65.

A higher antigen load means that even if your immune system has a weak response, more virus particles present help your body make more antibodies – ideally enough to protect you from infection, Haynes says.

A study published in 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that high-dose flu vaccine was 24% more effective than the standard vaccine in over 65% of people. In addition, seniors receiving high-dose vaccines are also less likely to be hospitalized for the flu.

Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine

Another vaccine specifically designed for seniors is the adjuvant flu vaccine. An adjuvant is a substance that increases your body’s response to virus proteins. The substance added to the adjuvant flu vaccine is squalene oil, also known as MF59, found naturally in plants and animals. “It gives an additional boost to the immune response to the vaccine which will then lead to greater protection from infection,” Haynes says.

Because the adjuvanted vaccine increases your immune response, it may cause more side effects than the standard vaccine, including burning sensation at the injection site, muscle pain, and headache. However, the vaccine offers a lot of protection for seniors – a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2020 found that more than 65 people who were vaccinated were more susceptible to the flu than those receiving the standard vaccine They were less likely to be hospitalized.


Taking any flu shot is helpful for seniors, but high doses and adjunct flu shots are the best option for illness and hospitalization.

There is very little risk of getting a flu vaccine. “You can’t get the flu from a flu vaccine,” Haynes says, although you may not feel well for a day or two after receiving it, because your immune system regains the waist to fight the virus. Tightening, which may cause mild symptoms such as headaches or low grade fever.

The CDC recommends that any adult may receive the flu vaccine unless you have severe allergies to ingredients such as gelatin or certain antibiotics. If you are not sure which flu vaccine is right for you, talk to your doctor to find out the best option.

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