Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday, so you might want to put getting a flu shot at the top of your to-do list if you plan to be with family and friends for the holiday. For those who haven't gotten the vaccine yet, it's even more crucial if you expect to be mingling with a crowd of sneezing, coughing shoppers at the malls, hunting for bargains on Black Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults 65 and older get a flu shot each year because seniors are at the greatest risk of serious complications if they get the virus. Since it takes about 10 days to build up immunity after receiving a flu shot, getting vaccinated now should protect you through the entire holiday season.
You can still get a shot at the doctor's office, but they're also widely available at chain drugstores and the pharmacy departments of several retailers. To find an outlet near you, go to flu shot websites of CVS (cvs.com/flu), Walgreens (bit.ly/walgreensflu), RiteAid (bit.ly/riteaid-flu) and Target (bit.ly/targetflu). You also can go to the government's all-inclusive Flu Vaccine Finder website (flu.gov). Most outlets dispensing the shots allow "walk-ins," so you shouldn't have to make an appointment.
Flu shots are covered by Medicare and many private health insurance plans. In most cases, you will have little to no out-of-pocket costs. Still, call the site first to make sure it has the vaccine available and ask whether your insurance will be accepted.
Many sites are offering a high-dose flu shot designed specifically for seniors 65 and older. In past years, the CDC has reported that the normal flu shot was less effective in protecting seniors because the immune system becomes weaker as we age. The CDC says studies have shown that seniors display a "stronger immune response" after vaccination with the high-dose shot, but it notes that whether this actually leads to a greater protection against the flu "is not yet known." The CDC recommends you talk with your doctor or health care practitioner before getting the high-dose flu shot.
Even after you get the vaccine, don't let your guard down. Basic precautions can help keep you and others from getting sick. Make sure to wash your hands often, especially after touching public railings and door handles, and keep your fingers from your nose, mouth and eyes to avoid spreading germs.
To download a tip sheet on everyday preventive actions to avoid the flu, go to bit.ly/CDC-preventflu. For updated information on this year's flu season, go to bit.ly/CDC-flu2013.