Prepare seniors for the upcoming flu season


Prepare seniors for the upcoming flu season

In brief:

  • Patients 65 and older account for 57% of hospitalizations and 75% of deaths from seasonal flu
  • While older patients often get a flu shot, this year poses more challenges
  • Due to COVID-19, offering flexible flu shot options for older patients is important and requires preparing now

Impact of the flu

The seasonal flu takes a heavy toll on older adults.

In the 2018–19 flu season, the CDC estimates that adults age 65 and older accounted for the majority of hospitalizations (57%) and flu-associated deaths (75%).

Figure 1: Percentage of influenza-related illnesses, medical visits, hospitalizations and deaths by age group, 2018–19 influenza season

During the first two weeks of flu infection older adults have a 3 to 5 times higher risk of heart attack and a 2 to 3 times higher risk of stroke. Older adults who get the flu have elevated risks that continue for several months.2

Importance and challenges of flu shots

Immunizations offer the best protection against the flu. The director of the CDC has urged Americans to get the seasonal flu vaccine this summer, to avoid the flu and to save hospital beds that may be needed for COVID-19 patients.3

This year, offer more options for seniors

Because seniors tend to have weaker immune systems, newer flu shots may offer better protection.4

Options include:

  • High-dose flu vaccine, such as Fluzone High-Dose. Compared to the regular flu shot, this may cut flu-related illness by nearly a quarter.
  • Adjuvanted flu vaccine, such as Fluad, with an additive to trigger a stronger immune response.

When providing these options, pharmacies need to prepare seniors for possible side effects, which may be more intense.

Also, it may be appropriate for seniors to get additional shots for added health protection. These include vaccines for:

  • Pneumococcal pneumonia, which can be a fatal complication of the flu. The good news: You may be able to administer this vaccine at the same visit as the flu shot. When a patient requests a flu shot, check whether they need a pneumonia shot too.
  • Shingles. The CDC recommends that people 60 and older get the shingles vaccine. Shingrix is preferred over Zostavax, which will no longer be sold in the United States after July 1, 2020, though Zostavax can still be used until the supply expires (before or by November 18, 2020).5

Identify challenges and overcome them

Challenge: In a normal year, 24% of people age 60 and older don’t get flu shots. The main reasons people don’t get flu shots are because they are concerned about side effects and they don’t believe the shots will work well.6
Solution: Educate patients that up to 80,000 people per year die from the flu, that the flu vaccine is effective and doesn’t cause flu illness, and that side effects — if they occur at all — are usually minor.
Challenge: Due to concerns about the pandemic, some patients, especially older individuals, may be reluctant to go to a pharmacy, a clinic or a doctor’s office for a flu shot.

Solution: Communicate with patients about the importance of getting a flu shot. Reassure patients about your safety practices. Consider providing flu shots for seniors on an appointment basis, early in the morning, when there is no one else in your pharmacy. Get started with appointments now to provide flu protection as early as possible and to gauge demand and issues.


Pro tip: Since children can be carriers of the flu, it’s important that they receive the flu vaccine too. Remind families that just as grandparents protect children by getting the whooping cough shot, vaccinating children protects seniors from the flu. It’s not too early to get started.7

Make flu shots a priority

The key message: don’t allow the focus on the COVID-19 pandemic to distract patients from the getting a flu shot. It is more important than ever this year, particularly for older patients.

Spread this message in multiple ways — when filling prescriptions, through exterior and in-store signage, on your website, on social media, and more. The CDC offers flyers and posters aimed at older adults and their need for the flu vaccine. If you’re a Health Mart® franchisee, access customizable flu season marketing templates by visiting the Marketing Hub.


Ready to grow? Your success is our main focus.
Offering immunizations helps you attract new patients to your pharmacy and adds a year-round revenue stream. Health Mart offers immunization programs, resources, training, marketing ideas and more to help you become a healthcare destination in your community. Contact us today to learn more about Health Mart benefits.


1Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States – 2018–2019 Influenza Season,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 7-16-20.
2Influenza and Older Adults,” National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
3The Coronavirus Plus the Flu Could Equal a Devastating Fall and Winter, CDC Director Says,” Mandy Oaklander, Time, June 29, 2020.
4People 65 Years and Older & Influenza,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov. 21, 2019.
5What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of July 17, 2020.
6Survey: 43 Percent of Adults Say No to Flu Vaccine,” Alexa Lardieri, U.S. News and World Report, Dec. 6, 2018.
7Flu Vaccines May Not Decrease Hospitalizations and Death Among Elderly, Study Suggests,” Joanne Finnegan, FierceHealthcare, March 4, 2020.