DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: I’ve read that there is a new extra-strength flu vaccine being offered to seniors this year. What can you tell me about it, where can I find it and does Medicare cover it? — Flu-Conscious Connie
DEAR CONNIE: The new extra-strength flu vaccination you’re inquiring about is called the Fluzone High-Dose, and it’s designed specifically for seniors, age 65 years and older. Here’s what you should know.
Manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2009, and was first made available last flu season on a limited basis.
The main difference between the Fluzone High-Dose and a regular flu shot is its potency. The High-Dose vaccine contain four times as much antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody) as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection.
This extra protection is particularly helpful to seniors, who have weaker immune defenses and have a great risk of developing dangerous flu complications. The CDC estimates that the flu puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital each year and kills around 24,000 — 95 percent of whom are seniors.
As with all flu vaccines, Fluzone High-Dose is not recommended for seniors who are allergic to chicken eggs, or those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
To locate a vaccination site that offers the Fluzone High-Dose, ask your doctor or pharmacist, or check the online flu-shot locator at flu.gov for clinics or stores offering flu shots. Then contact some in your area to see whether they have the High-Dose vaccine. CVS, Walgreens, Safeway, Kmart, Rite Aid and Kroger are among some of the chains offering the High-Dose shot.
You’ll also be happy to know that if you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Part B will cover 100 percent of the cost of your High-Dose vaccination. But if you’re not covered, the cost is around $50 to $60 — that’s about double what you’d pay for a regular flu shot.
Another important vaccination the CDC recommends to seniors — especially this time of year — is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine for pneumonia and meningitis (the vaccine is called Pneumovax 23).
Pneumonia causes more than 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, many of which could be prevented by this vaccine. If you’re over age 65 and haven’t already gotten this one-time-only shot, you should get it now before flu season hits.
Pneumovax 23 is also covered under Medicare Part B, and you can get it on the same day you get your flu shot. If you’re not covered by insurance, this vaccine costs around $75 to $85 at retail clinics.
This vaccine is also recommended to adults under the age of 65 if they smoke or have certain chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes or sickle cell disease; have had their spleen removed, or have a weakened immune system due to cancer, HIV or an organ transplant.
In addition to getting vaccinated, the CDC reminds everyone that the three best ways to stay healthy during flu season are to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and stay home if you’re sick. For more information on the recommended vaccines for older adults, see cdc.gov/vaccines.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.