October signals the beginning of influenza season, a time when many wonder, “Should I get a flu shot?”. The short answer is, yes, but for people living with Parkinson’s, there can be additional concerns or questions. Let’s take a look at what you and your care team can do to prepare for the 2019-2020 flu season.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
Adults over 50 are advised to get flu shots as they are more likely to experience complications from the flu such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Neurological conditions further reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection while flu-related illness can be more severe and prolonged in people with Parkinson’s or worsen side effects related to walking and balance, swallowing, rigidity and tremor.
People with Parkinson’s are listed among the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Specific High-Risk Groups and are encouraged to get vaccinated early.
When Should I Get Vaccinated?
The CDC recommends being immunized by the end of October to prepare for peak flu season. There are many different influenza viruses in the United States with the most increasing in outbreak through early autumn and with peak activity between December and February.
Don’t wait until peak season or when you think you may have early symptoms to get a flu shot. Antigens in vaccinations take two to four weeks to stimulate the body’s immune system to create the antibodies it will use to fight influenza infection. Vaccinations will not cure the flu once you are infected.
What Type of Vaccination Should I Get?
For anyone over the age of 50, and especially for those living with Parkinson’s, only needle injection vaccinations are recommended. You should not get a nasal spray vaccine. While some vaccines are available to be administered by a jet injector, this device is not recommended for people over 65.
The CDC recommends different vaccines for different age groups. Your healthcare provider will know the appropriate option for you. This guide from the CDC explains the types and formulations of vaccine options prepared for the 2019-2020 flu season.
Vaccine Options for People Over 65
For people 65 and over, there are two additional vaccination options; high-dose and adjuvanted. Both options are licensed only for people 65 and over who require a stronger immune response during flu season. The CDC does not recommend one over the other, though the question of which vaccine is right for you is best answered by your healthcare provider.
Fluzone is a high-dose vaccine containing four times as many antigens as a standard dose and, according to the CDC, reduces influenza infections by 24% versus the standard dose for people in this category.
FLUAD is an adjuvanted vaccine using the same formulation as standard but with the addition of MF59 to create a stronger immune response in the body. MF59 is formulated with squalene, a naturally occurring compound in the body, that can compensate for the diminished immunity response brought on with age.
Are Flu Shots Safe for Those Taking Parkinson’s Medication?
We took this question straight to Dr. Aaron Haug, a Movement Disorder Specialist at Blue Sky Neurology in Denver. Here’s what he had to say,
I recommend that anyone with Parkinson’s receive a flu shot annually. The live flu vaccine, which is given nasally, is only approved for people under age 49. If a person gets the nasal live flu vaccine, they should not take amantadine within 14 days. Otherwise, there is no contraindication for any Parkinson’s medication and the flu shot.
Will a Flu Shot Give Me the Flu?
No, this is not possible. Flu vaccines for injection are made from non-living influenza viruses and cannot initiate a live infection. It is normal, though, to experience mild reactions to flu shots. Soreness, redness or swelling may occur at the area of injection. High-dose and adjuvanted vaccines may cause increased levels of soreness. Some people report a low-grade fever or mild headache that lasts for a short period of time. In may cases, getting sick right after a flu shot is simply the coincidence of getting a common cold.
Should I Get a Pneumococcal Vaccination, Too?
Yes, being high risk for the flu means you are also high risk for pneumonia which is a serious complication of influenza. Unlike the flu shot, the pneumococcal vaccine is long-lasting with just a few shots needed in your lifetime. Ask your doctor to check that you are up-to-date on this important vaccination.
What Do Flu Shots Cost?
Influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are covered by Medicare Part B with no copay. Health insurance companies are also required to cover the cost of both vaccines with no copay; however, you should check with your insurance company to see if you need to visit a specific facility.
Without insurance coverage, the cost is relatively low, averaging around $30 – $40 for a single, standard dose vaccination.
Where Can I Get Vaccinated?
Traditionally, flu shots were given only at doctors’ offices and medical centers, but today, a growing number of locations offer vaccination services and accept insurance coverage for payment. While your doctor’s office remains a trusted resource for vaccinations, drugstores, supermarkets and wholesale clubs are among the many retail locations you can visit to get vaccinated. Wholesale club stores do not require membership to visit pharmacies for vaccinations. Not a shopper? County and state health departments offer vaccines on a limited basis and likely charge based on a sliding scale.
For a list of locations nearest you, use the Vaccine Finder link.
It is equally important for everyone around you and on your care team to get a flu shot. Anyone can get the flu, not just those who are high risk and there’s no way to predict who will and who will not get the flu. Just because someone has never had the flu before, it doesn’t mean they will continue to avoid it. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months gets a flu vaccination. Not only does this protect them from infection and illness, but it further protects you from exposure to the influenza virus.
Tips for Flu Season
- Get vaccinated early
- Wash your hands often and disinfect commonly touched objects and surfaces
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Wait until more than 24 hours have passed since they last had a fever.
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Exercise regularly
- Get good sleep
- Over the counter cold and flu medications can have significant side effects for people with Parkinson’s, so check with your doctor before use.