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Why adults 65+ are at greater risk this flu season

October 25, 2023 |2 minute read time

An older person who just received a shot from a pharmacist

At 75 years old, Beth Harris is at greater risk for complications from respiratory viruses such as flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). So as soon as the updated COVID-19 vaccine was available at her Connecticut pharmacy, she made an appointment. Next, she’ll get her annual flu shot.

“With COVID, you don’t know whether or not you might be hospitalized,” Beth says. “The shot itself is no big deal. So, it’s really a no-brainer.”

Immune systems weaken with age, putting older adults like Beth at greater risk of serious complications from respiratory viruses. In the 2022-23 season, the combined rate of hospitalizations associated with COVID-19, flu and RSV was 3.5 times higher for adults ages 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For older adults especially, timely vaccinations and preventative measures are critical, explains Dr. Sree Chaguturu, CVS Health® executive vice president and chief medical officer.

While the RSV season was disrupted by the pandemic, health officials see it returning this winter alongside COVID-19 and flu, raising concerns about the possibility of all three viruses peaking at the same time. “Getting vaccinated earlier in the season gives you the best opportunity to protect yourself,” Sree says.


New vaccines protect older adults

For the first time, the U.S. has vaccines for the 2023-24 season to fight all three major respiratory viruses, including a new COVID-19 immunization, updated flu shots — and a first-ever RSV vaccine for adults ages 60 and older.

While most people who get RSV experience mild cold symptoms, the virus can lead to hospitalization and even death in infants and older adults.

Also new this year is an updated COVID-19 vaccine that targets current variants of the virus.

CVS® pharmacists can also evaluate if older adults, and other high-risk people who test positive for COVID-19, meet the criteria for taking the antiviral medication Paxlovid — and prescribe it directly to patients.

Updated flu vaccinations are also available this winter, with senior doses that create a stronger immune response.

CVS Pharmacy locations offer COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines every day, including evenings and weekends, says Hiba Betka, a CVS pharmacist in Cleveland, Ohio. Individual patients can book group appointments online for up to four individuals, so families and caregivers can be vaccinated together.  

Hiba encourages all of her eligible patients to get vaccinated. “It’s so important to get your vaccine, because you’re not just protecting yourself, you’re protecting those around you as well.”

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