IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Adults Who Get Flu Vaccine Protect Their Parents

People over 65 are less likely to come down with flu when a third of younger adults in their communities are immunized, a new study finds.
Image: File photo of a nurse preparing an injection of the influenza vaccine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston
A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

People often blame kids for the spread of colds and flu, but a new study shows that when adults get the flu vaccine, their parents’ generation benefits.

They found that people over 65 were less likely to come down with serious flu-like illness when a third of younger adults in their communities were immunized.

“Our findings suggest that flu vaccination should be encouraged among low-risk adults not just for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of higher risk adults in their community, such as the elderly,” said Glen Taksler of the Cleveland Clinic, who led the study.

When 31 percent of younger adults in a community were vaccinated, rates of flu and related illnesses dropped by 21 percent among the people over 65, Taksler’s team reported in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

They looked at county-by-county data for 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries between 2002 and 2010.

“In round numbers, we estimated that about one in 20 cases of influenza-related illness in the elderly could have been prevented if more non-elderly adults had received the flu vaccine,” Taksler said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that just about everybody get vaccinated against flu, freshly each year because the immunity wears off and because the flu virus mutates.

Most kids do, but just under half of all adults ever get vaccinated, CDC has found. Flu killed more than 140 children last season, but in any given year it can kill between 3,000 and 49,000 people, and 80 to 90 percent of them are over 65.

Older people get less protection from the flu vaccine, so it makes sense that if younger people are vaccinated, the virus circulates less and is less likely to infect their elders.

This year, CDC says, 171 million to 179 million doses of flu vaccine will be available and it’s already available in some places.