Medicare Beneficiaries– Be Sure to Get a Flu Shot. It’s Free!

It’s getting to be that time of year again.  Kids are going back to school and everyone is getting back into their usual routine that was abandoned during the peak of the summer.  After months of unusually hot temperatures across the country, the evenings are starting to get that familiar nip in the air, and all are reminded that soon we will be raking up leaves and adding a cozy sweater to our ensemble.  But the impending autumn brings the reminder that flu season will soon be upon us, and now is the time to prepare.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week the vaccines that were approved for the 2012-2013 flu season, including the formulations by the six vaccine manufacturers licensed to produce and distribute vaccines in the US. Because the FDA, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other public health experts have identified them as being those most likely to be transmitted this year, the 2012-2013 vaccines include the following strains: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus; A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus; and B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus.  The latter two strains differ from those included in last year’s vaccines, so it is especially important to get vaccinated this year, according to Karen Midthun, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. 

The brand names of the flu vaccines approved for this year are: Afluria (CSL Limited); Fluarix (GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals); FluLaval (ID Biomedical Corporation); FluMist (MedImmune Vaccines, Inc.); Fluvirin (Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited); and Fluzone, Fluzone High-Dose and Fluzone Intradermal (Sanofi Pasteur).

According to the FDA press release, “[v]accination remains the cornerstone of preventing influenza, a contagious respiratory disease caused by different influenza viruses infecting the nose, throat and lungs.” The FDA goes on to reason that five to 20 percent of the population develops the flu each year, leading to 200,000 hospitalizations, and an especially severe flu season could result in as many as 49,000 deaths in the US.

The CDC recommends that all individuals aged six months or older be vaccinated.  When supplies are limited, priority should be given to those aged 6 months to 4 years and 50 year s and older; those with chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders; the immunosuppressed; those that are pregnant or will be pregnant; those at risk for developing Reye syndrome after flu virus infection (meaning those 6 months to 18 years and on long-term aspirin therapy); nursing home and other care facility residents; American Indians/Alaska Natives; the morbidly obese; health care workers; and household contacts/caregivers of children under 5 years, adults over 50 years, and those at a higher risk of serious complications from the flu. [The CDC lists those that should not receive the flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine.]

Medicare covers one flu shot for Medicare beneficiaries each flu season, starting in the fall.  As long as your provider accepts assignment from Medicare for giving the shot, there is no charge to you. [More information on this and Medicare’s other preventive services is available in “Your Guide to Medicare’s Preventive Services,” available at: http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/10110.pdf]

So as the weather turns cooler, remember to make arrangements for a flu vaccine, especially since this may be a particularly severe flu season.