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Seniors Get Green Light for H1N1 Vaccine

January 15, 2010

older happy coupleToday has been designated Seniors' Vaccination Day as part of National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), as a reminder that older Americans should now get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that older Americans get the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine. 

With over 130 million doses of 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine available, many places have opened up vaccination to anyone who wants it. Initially, people age 65 and older were not one of the priority groups to receive vaccinations—despite some being among the first to line up at mass vaccination clinics in October.

With Experience Comes Immunity

Whereas people age 65 and older account for 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths, the H1N1 flu has largely spared seniors. Dr. Anthony Fiore, medical epidemiologist for the Influenza Division of the CDC, explained that older people may have been exposed to influenza viruses during their youth that are somewhat similar to the current 2009 H1N1 virus.

“Laboratory tests on blood samples indicate that many older people have antibodies that might partially protect against infection, or at least severe infection, with 2009 H1N1 virus,” wrote Fiore on the “Focus on Flu” WebMD blog.  “In this instance, experience really does pay off!”

But the 2009 H1N1 virus may still result in severe infections and even deaths in some elderly. Those who become infected are at greater risk of having serious complications and should seek medical advice as soon as flu-like symptoms appear. According to CDC’s guidance, people 65 years and older are prioritized to get antiviral drugs if they become sick with the flu. 

Vaccination Clinics for Seniors

Out of concern for the health of their members and residents, senior centers, nursing homes, and retirement communities across the country are now taking advantage of increased vaccine supply to provide H1N1 vaccinations.

Brenda Wilson, the director of Village of Lexington Senior Center in Ohio, invited the Mansfield/Ontario/Richland County Health Department to give H1N1 vaccines to their residents this week. She was inspired to provide H1N1 vaccine because she heard that people weren’t taking advantage of the supply that was freely available through her local health department.

The clinic was opened to all ages but mostly attracted seniors. Wilson praised the health department for their expediency. “There was a constant flow, with two greeters and staff to walk people between stations,” she said. “They were in and out of there in no time.” 

In Staunton, VA, Senior Center Director Lynn Harris collaborated with the Augusta-Staunton Health Department to provide the vaccine to staff, senior center members, and others in the community.

The clinic had been scheduled for some time but happened to coincide with NIVW—bringing about valuable public exposure. A registered nurse gave H1N1 flu shots to almost 100 senior center members and others over the age of 50—a relatively “huge turnout” from the community.

“The clinic was run very smoothly. There was a line, but it went quickly,” said Harris. “The nurse was available to talk to folks, get issues resolved, and answer any questions.” 

Visit CDC’s Flu.gov for comprehensive information about what you should know and do this flu season if you are 65 years and older.


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