What Vaccines Do Seniors Need?
Many older adults think that they do not need vaccinations, or are concerned about side effects from vaccines. However it is important to know that people age 65 and older are at higher risk of complications from the actual diseases than the vaccines.
It is important for everyone to have their vaccines up-to-date. It is especially important for seniors. There are several reasons why older adults should discuss vaccinations with their doctors, such as:
• Some seniors may not have been vaccinated as children
• New vaccinations may now be available
• Their immunity may have faded
• Most importantly, seniors are more likely to have serious and possibly life-threatening infections
The most important vaccines that seniors should ask their doctor about are the flu vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia, the shingles vaccine, and a tetanus-diptheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
Influenza vaccine (Flu)
Health care experts recommend an annual flu vaccination for most adults. They are also recommended for any person with chronic health conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
Getting the flu vaccine every year is necessary since the immunity from the vaccine does not last long. It is also important to remember that every year vaccine manufacturers update the vaccine to make sure it is as effective as possible against the flu virus.
You can usually get the vaccine at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy starting in the fall each year. It is usually available from September through April each year.
Some people who are allergic to eggs, latex, have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine previously or have Guillain-Barre syndrome should speak to their doctor to see if they should get the flu vaccine.
Pneumonia causes major health problems in seniors and is responsible for 60,000 deaths each year.
Seniors are at a higher risk for developing pneumonia and should receive the pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine as a one-time vaccination.
Seniors older than 65 should speak to their doctor about a repeat pneumococcal vaccination if:
• they are older than 65
• have previously been vaccinated
• five years or more have elapsed since the original shot, AND
• they were younger than 65 at the time of their first vaccination
Shingles (Zoster vaccine)
Shingles is a very painful and contagious rash. People that have had chickenpox and have healed have the chickenpox virus asleep (dormant) in their bodies. Shingles occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. In some people, it stays dormant forever. However after the virus becomes active again, it can only cause shingles, not chickenpox.
The shingles vaccine, which has only been available for a few years, helps to prevent or minimize a shingles outbreak. The vaccine may decrease your risk of having shingles by about 50 percent, or at least minimize its severity.
Experts recommend it for anyone 60 or older. There are risks with the vaccine for people with certain conditions. Be sure to discuss any health problems you have with your doctor.
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis are very serious diseases.
Tetanus (Lockjaw) is rare in the United States today. It causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness, usually all over the body. It can lead to tightening of muscles in the head and neck so you can’t open your mouth, swallow, or sometimes even breathe. Tetanus kills about 1 out of 10 people who are infected even after receiving the best medical care.
Diphtheria is also rare in the United States today. It can cause a thick coating to form in the back of the throat. It can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis, and death.
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) causes severe coughing spells, which can cause difficulty breathing, vomiting, and disturbed sleep. It can also lead to weight loss, incontinence, and rib fractures. Up to 5 in 100 adults with pertussis are hospitalized or have complications, which could include pneumonia or death.
Tdap vaccine can protect us from these diseases. Most people get vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis as children and as adolescents.
When should seniors get the Tdap vaccine?
If you have never received this vaccination you should speak to your doctor to receive it as soon as possible.
If you are less than 64 years old you should get this vaccine to replace one of the series of tetanus boosters recommended for adults every 10 years. It contains the same parts as the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine with the addition of the pertussis part.
Discuss which vaccinations are right for you with your doctor. Make sure to have the needed vaccines on schedule. This will help you prevent disease and maintain a healthy active lifestyle.