The Hidden Risks of Influenza: Why Vaccination Makes Sense


Did you know elderly adults make up only 15% of the Canadian population yet they account for up to 70% of influenza-related hospitalizations and 90% of influenza-related deaths? What if I told you that influenza can result in a host of possible serious health consequences such as heart attacks, hospitalization, and even death?

Influenza is a highly contagious viral illness of the nose, sinuses, throat and lungs. A common misconception is the perceived harmlessness of influenza. Although many people may shake off the infection, some will continue to experience the ill effects of influenza for the rest of their lives. In reality, the dangers of influenza are hidden and extend well beyond the symptoms, such as fever, cough and headaches that we would normally associate with the “flu”.

Older adults (65 years of age and older) are at the highest risk of complications due to influenza. Unlike the common cold, studies have shown influenza can lead to serious and potentially fatal health problems such as pneumonia and may be associated with the worsening of pre-existing kidney or lung disease, and can even trigger heart attacks or strokes. Consequently, influenza illness can be especially debilitating for older adults as these complications can lead to disability and a loss of independence. Given the impact that influenza can have among older adults, Canada’s National Advisory Committee for Immunization (NACI) highly recommends annual vaccination of adults 65 years of age and older as well as those with various chronic conditions.

As we get older, our immune system naturally and progressively weakens which makes it more difficult for the body to fight off infections. To make matters worse, older adults typically have underlying diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and kidney disease which can be worsened by influenza. As a result, the repercussions of influenza among older adults may be long lasting if not permanent.

While influenza vaccination remains among the best ways to prevent influenza, vaccination tends to be less effective in older adults compared to younger adults. Vaccines work by training your body’s defenses to identify and fight off foreign invaders. However, when older adults and other people with weakened immune systems are given a vaccine, the immune response often just isn’t as robust so they’re more vulnerable to infection and the severe consequences of influenza compared to younger adults.

For those 65 years of age and older, there is now a high-dose influenza vaccine available in Canada. Both Health Canada and NACI have recognized this vaccine as having shown improved efficacy for preventing influenza illness that is generally safe and well-tolerated when compared to the standard influenza vaccine. It’s time to consider the high-dose influenza vaccine to help better protect older adults in Canada. Ask your doctor today if the high-dose vaccine is right for you.

Remember to protect yourselves and your loved ones by getting your annual flu shot against influenza. Empower yourselves to prevent one of the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada!


About the Author:

Dr. Brian Aw has been practicing Travel Medicine and Family Practice for over two decades. He is one of the leading local educators in Travel Medicine and Vaccination and regularly lectures to nurses, pharmacists and doctors across Ontario. He sits on the Examination Committee as the primary Canadian representative for the International Society of Travel Medicine.  Dr. Brian Aw is the Medical Director of the International Travel Clinic at Ultimate Health Medical Centre in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada.