However, vaccination rates are alarmingly low among older adults. Globally only about 59% of adults aged 65 and over were vaccinated during the 2017-2018 flu season.
The flu vaccine is updated each year based on data from a worldwide virus tracking system that helps public health officials predict which virus strains will circulate during the upcoming season. Generally, people aged 65 and over have two vaccine options. There is a traditional flu shot and a higher dose flu shot designed specifically to address the age-related decline of the immune system. The higher dose vaccine prompts the body to produce more antibodies against the flu virus than would be produced by the traditional shot.
Because pneumonia is a common complication of the influenza virus, pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for all adults over age 64. In addition to pneumonia, pneumococcal disease can cause dangerous infections of the bloodstream and the linings of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
Physicians are advised to recommend yearly vaccination against flu. Data from several studies demonstrate the benefits of flu vaccine:
New frontiers for the protection against influenza
Despite major efforts on vaccination, influenza remains an ongoing global threat. The induction of strain‐specific neutralizing antibody response is a common phenomenon during vaccination with the current inactivated influenza vaccines, so the protective effect of these vaccines is mostly strain‐specific. There is an essential need for the development of next‐generation vaccines, with a broad range of immunogenicity against antigenically drifted or shifted influenza viruses. These include whole inactivated vaccines, based on chemical and physical methods, as well as new approaches to generate cross‐protective immune responses.
According to Sabbaghi and colleagues (Sabbaghi et al., 2019), vaccine candidates have recently been developed that can elicit antibodies against multiple influenza strains, and thus could overcome the need for annual influenza vaccines. Several antiviral drugs are currently in development for influenza treatment, including favipiravir, nitazoxanide, and arbidol.
Guidance on protection against the flu
Influenza is very infectious and can easily be transmitted to other people. Typically the risk of transmission is higher in the first 5 days of being infected.
Flu viruses spread from coughs and sneezes and remain alive on surfaces for up to 24 hours. Besides recommendation, a yearly flu vaccine, the following simple preventive measures are advised:
Author: Dr Reshma Ramracheya is a group leader at the University of Oxford with over 18 years of experience in teaching and medical research.
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