Seniors should wait for H1N1 flu shot

Published 6:27 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Older adults, who are among those hardest hit by seasonal flu, are the group least likely to catch the Pandemic H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.

That’s why people 65 and older are not in the top priority groups identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive scarce H1N1 vaccine, said Southwest Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

“Laboratory tests on blood samples indicate that older people likely have some pre-existing immunity to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus,” Grant explained. “Because only limited amounts of vaccine are available at this time, the first doses are recommended for those who are most likely to get infected.”

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The CDC reported Friday that hospitalization rates continue to be highest in younger populations, with the highest hospitalization rate reported in children 0-4 years old. In addition, since the first outbreak of H1N1 in April, approximately 130 children have died from laboratory-confirmed H1N1, according to the CDC. Fifteen additional pediatric deaths during that time were laboratory-confirmed as influenza, although the virus subtype was not determined.

“As you can see, the numbers show that children are bearing the brunt of H1N1 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Grant. “Children are far more likely to catch this disease, so therefore they are more likely to be hospitalized or to die from it.”

Health officials are asking older adults and others who are not targeted for the first doses of vaccine to be patient. “Eventually enough vaccine will be available for everyone who wants it,” Grant said.

She said that even though relatively few infections and even fewer cases of serious illness and death from H1N1 have occurred in people older than 65, those who do become infected are at greater risk of developing serious complications.

“People 65 and older are prioritized to get antiviral drugs if they become sick with the flu,” Grant said. “Adults 65 and older who develop flu-like symptoms should seek medical attention quickly. The antivirals work best if administered early.”

While people 65 and older are not included in the groups recommended to get the earliest doses of vaccine, they can get the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine as soon as the high risk and younger groups have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, she said. Older adults are also encouraged to get a seasonal flu shot.

“Finally, we urge everyone to take everyday preventative actions, such as washing their hands, covering their noses and mouths when they cough and sneeze and staying home when sick,” said Grant.

More information is available by going online to or or by calling the District’s toll-free hotline, 800-829-2255.

Carolyn Maschke is a risk communications/public information officer with the Georgia Health District 8, Unit 2 in Albany, Ga. She can be reached by calling (229) 430-1969 or e-mailing her at