The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause a variety of symptoms. It’s especially dangerous while the COVID-19 pandemic is still an issue.

The flu can strike in any time of the year, although outbreaks tend to peak in fall and winter. Some people who get the flu recover in about 1 to 2 weeks without major complications.

For seniors especially — those ages 65 and older — the flu can cause life threatening complications. This is why it’s important for older adults to get an annual flu shot.

Here’s what you need to know about flu shots for seniors, including the different types and reasons to get one.

The seasonal flu shot is approved for most people ages 6 months and older. The vaccine is typically given by injection, but other forms exist. Here are some of the more common types of flu shots:

  • high-dose flu shot
  • adjuvanted flu shot
  • intradermal flu shot
  • nasal spray vaccine

It’s important to understand that flu shots aren’t one-size-fits-all. There are different types of flu shots, and some are specific for certain age groups.

If you’re a senior and considering getting a flu shot this season, chances are your doctor will recommend a flu shot designed specifically for people ages 65 and older, such as a high-dose vaccine or adjuvanted flu vaccine.

One type of flu vaccine for older adults is called Fluzone. This is a high-dose trivalent vaccine. A trivalent vaccine protects against three strains of the virus: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and the influenza B virus.

The flu vaccine works by stimulating the production of antibodies in your body that can protect against the flu virus. Antigens are the components that stimulate the production of these antibodies.

A high-dose vaccine is designed to strengthen the immune system response in older adults, thus lowering the risk of infection.

A 2020 study concluded that the high-dose vaccine has higher effectiveness in adults 65 years of age and older than the standard-dose vaccine.

Another flu vaccine is FLUAD, a standard-dose trivalent shot made with adjuvant. Adjuvant is another ingredient that produces a stronger immune system response. It’s also designed specifically for people ages 65 and older.

If you’re getting the flu vaccine, you may wonder whether one option is better than others. Your doctor can point you to the one that should work best for you.

In certain years, the nasal spray hasn’t been recommended due to effectiveness concerns. But both the shot and the nasal spray are recommended for the 2020 to 2021 flu season.

For the most part, the flu vaccine is safe. But you should check with your doctor before getting it if you have one the following:

It’s not unusual to experience mild flu-like symptoms after a vaccination. These symptoms tend to disappear after one to two days. Other common side effects of the vaccine include soreness and redness at the injection site.

You may have concerns about the cost of getting an annual flu vaccination. The cost varies depending on where you go and whether you have insurance. In some cases, you may be able to get the flu shot free of charge or at a low cost.

Typical prices for the adult flu vaccine range between $0 and $40, depending on the vaccine you receive and your insurance coverage.

Ask your doctor about getting the flu shot during an office visit. Some pharmacies and hospitals in your community may provide vaccinations. You can also research flu clinics at community centers or senior centers.

Note that some of the typical providers like schools and workplaces may not offer them this year due to closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use websites like Vaccine Finder to find locations near you that offer the flu vaccine, and contact them to compare costs.

The sooner you get a vaccination, the better. On average, it can take up to 2 weeks for your body to produce antibodies to protect against the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October.

The flu shot is especially important for older adults because they tend to have weaker immune systems.

When the immune system isn’t strong, it becomes harder for the body to fight off infections. Likewise, a weaker immune system can lead to flu-related complications.

Secondary infections that can develop with the flu include:

  • ear infections
  • sinus infections
  • bronchitis
  • pneumonia

People ages 65 and older are at higher risk for serious complications. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people ages 65 and older. Plus, up to 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people ages 65 and older.

If you become ill after getting a vaccination, a flu shot may lessen the severity of symptoms of the illness.

Protecting yourself from the flu is increasingly important while COVID-19 is a factor.

The flu is a potentially serious viral infection, particularly in people ages 65 and older.

To protect yourself, ask your doctor about getting a high-dose flu vaccination. Ideally, you should get a vaccine early in the season, around September or October.

Keep in mind that flu strains vary from year to year, so be prepared to update your vaccination next flu season.