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Seniors Should Get Their Flu Shots

This is the start of flu season, and I urge all senior citizens to get their lifesaving flu and pneumococcal shots.  Flu and pneumococcal disease are particular problems in the Hispanic community where the adult immunization rate is far below the national average.

Each winter, a flu epidemic sweeps the country killing an average of 20,000 Americans and putting more that 100,000 in the hospital.  Over 10,000 more die each year from pneumococcal infections.  Adults with diabetes who develop the flu are three times more likely to die.  Most are age 65 and older.  These numbers represent a staggering preventable human tragedy.   Together, influenza and pneumococcal disease are the most common causes of death in the United States from diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.  These are needless deaths because they are so easily avoided through vaccination.

 Only about 58 percent of Hispanics receive the flu shots  and only about 34 percent are vaccinated against pneumococcal infections, compared to 67 percent of older white persons who receive the flu shot and 47 percent who receive the pneumococcal shot. 

But this is a tragedy we can prevent.  Every senior citizen needs to know that flu and pneumococcal shots are available and free under Medicare. They don’t cost a penny and they are lifesavers.  All persons 65 years and older, persons in nursing homes and anyone with heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes or other chronic disease who have not received these shots should ask their health care providers for both influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.

My family and friends are important to me, so each October I call my parents as well as my friends and other relatives who are 65 and older to remind them to get their flu shots.  You should do the same.  Call your friends and relatives who either have diabetes or are 65 and older to ask them to please get their flu shots.  It could save their lives.

Flu shots must be given every year because the influenza virus changes from year-to- year.    Pneumococcal shots are usually only given once.  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the best time to vaccinate against flu is between October and mid-November.  However, even after mid-November, older adults and people with chronic illnesses may still benefit from the flu vaccine.  Pneumococcal shots can be given with the flu shot or at any time of year.

Some people worry that flu shots cause the flu.  This is not true.  Flu shots can’t cause the flu, because the vaccines are made with killed virus.   However, sometimes people may think they have the flu when they actually have another respiratory infection with similar symptoms.

Don’t wait to be told by your doctor that you need the shots.  Don’t delay, ask your  healthcare provider for the shots.  It’s your health and it’s your life.  Don’t take an unnecessary risk.  Get your shots today.

For more information about receiving a flu and pneumococcal shot covered by Medicare, call toll-free, 1-800-638-6833 or visit Medicare's Web site at http://www.medicare.gov. for more information about influenza disease and CDC's recommendations for influenza vaccination, telephone the CDC National Immunization Information Hotline (800) 232-2522, English, and (800) 232-0233, Spanish, or visit CDC's Internet page at http://www.cdc.gov/nip.

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