10/05/2011 - Articles

Why Seniors Avoid the Flu Vaccine

By: John Russo, Jr., PharmD

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Overcoming Resistance: Why Seniors Avoid the Flu Vaccine

Vaccination against seasonal influenza lowers the risk for hospitalization and death among the elderly. Accordingly, the U.S. government’s goal is for 90% of people aged 65 years and older to be vaccinated.

Unfortunately, things are not going well. Despite its safety, effectiveness, and even cost effectiveness, only about two-thirds of seniors were vaccinated during each of the previous three seasons. And there’s no evidence that acceptance is increasing.

Why the resistance?
Among older people, three reasons account for this widespread resistance to the vaccine. These include mistrust of modern medicine, prior experience with vaccination, and perceived risk from influenza.

Seniors aren’t ignorant. They generally accept the benefits of healthy eating, fresh air, keeping active, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation. However, when it comes to the flu vaccine, skepticism prevails.

"I wonder just how effective this stuff (flu vaccine) is?"

"As well as not liking doctors and hospitals, I'm a bit dubious about the whole the drug profession."

Less than 1% of those who get the shots develop fever, muscle aches, or severe local reactions. Yet, those who refuse to be vaccinated draw on their experience and perception of side effects.

"I had a flu jab once and I got the flu. So, I said to myself, never again, no more jabs."

Those who refuse the vaccine believe that their risk of infection is lower if they avoid crowded places and contact with people with respiratory illnesses. True. Except who among us can maintain a safe distance from others for more than half the year.

 The bottom line
The problem facing policy makers is that statistics are suspect when they counter personal experience. Government programs rely almost entirely on facts, while many people are motivated by subjective perceptions and anecdotal experience. Moreover, they hold strong ownership of their views.

Convincing doubters will be difficult until policy makers communicate at the doubter’s level – not an easy task.

Regardless of whether you get vaccinated, guidelines to lower your risk for the flu and its consequences are presented below.

Lower Your Risk for the Flu

The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated. In addition, here are recommendations for a comprehensive approach to get you through the 2011 flu season.

Keep your hands clean
Washing your hands helps protect from germs. When soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth
Germs spread when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after touch something contaminated with germs.

Cover your mouth and nose
Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inner crook of your elbow. Avoid contaminating your hands.

Quit smoking
There’s an increased risk of influenza infections and death among smokers. Smokers are also more likely to have respiratory tract infections, perhaps because smoking suppresses immune function.

Avoid crowds
Flu spreads wherever people congregate — childcare centers, schools, office buildings, auditoriums, and public transportation. Minimizing exposure to crowds during peak flu season lowers the risk of infection.

Improve your diet
Follow a balanced diet. Purple eggplant, crisp apple, rich red pomegranate, plump grapes, fragrant garlic, juicy citrus fruit, and a bit of bittersweet dark chocolate have positive effects on the immune system.

Support your immune system
In addition to smoking cessation and diet, get enough sleep and exercise, and reduce stress in your life.

Stay home
Once infected, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to seek medical care or for other necessities.

Created on: 10/05/2011
Reviewed on: 10/05/2011

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