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Don’t let the pandemic stop your hits

Experts fear that vaccination rates may have fallen further during the pandemic, as is the case with children, if older people were reluctant to visit doctors’ offices or pharmacies.

Financial and bureaucratic obstacles also hamper immunization efforts. Medicare Part B completely covers three vaccines: influenza, pneumococcus, and, where applicable, hepatitis B.

Tdap and shingles vaccines, however, are covered under Part D, which can make reimbursement for physicians difficult; vaccines are easier to obtain from pharmacies. Not all Medicare beneficiaries purchase Part D, and for those who do, coverage varies by plan and may include deductibles and co-pays.

Still, older people can access most recommended vaccines free or at low cost, through doctors’ offices, pharmacies, supermarkets and local health services. For the benefit of all, they should.

Here’s what the CDC recommends:

Influenza An annual injection in the fall – and it’s not too late yet, as the flu season peaks from late January through February. Depending on the strain circulating, the vaccine (ask for stronger versions for older people) prevents 40 to 50 percent of cases; it also reduces the severity of illness for those infected.

So far this year, influenza activity has remained extremely low, possibly due to social distancing and masks or because closed schools have prevented children from spreading it. Manufacturers have shipped a record number of doses, so perhaps more people have been vaccinated. In any case, fears of a flu / Covid “twindemic” have not yet materialized.

Still, infectious disease experts are urging older people (and anyone over six months old) to get vaccinated now. “The flu is fickle,” said Dr. Schaffner. “It could take off like a rocket in January.”

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