August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Seniors, Have You Had Your Shots?

Carl and Angela’s first grandchild is due in December! They are planning a trip to see the new arrival over the holidays. But much to their surprise, their daughter told them that no one who had not been vaccinated against whooping cough could be around the baby. “We haven’t had a shot in years! We’re too old!” said Angela. She asked her doctor about it, and he said, “You’re behind on some of your other immunizations, as well. Let’s get those up to date.”

Some people think that vaccines are only for children. But immunizations are important for protecting adults from a number of dangerous diseases. And although seniors are at highest risk of serious complications and even death from these diseases, only a small percentage of people older than 65 have received all the recommended shots.

Your doctor can tell you which immunizations are right for you. Here are the vaccines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends for most older adults:

Annual flu vaccine. Seasonal influenza—“the flu”—can be a serious illness for older adults. Seniors are more likely to get it, and 90 percent of people who die from the effects of the flu are older adults. We need to get a flu shot every year, because the flu viruses that spread are different every year. If you’re older than 65, your doctor may recommend that you get the new, higher-dose shot, which is more effective for seniors. The nasal spray is not recommended for older adults. You may have read that some years the flu shot is more effective than others—but studies show seniors who are immunized usually have a milder case of the flu even if they do get it.

Tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis. Tetanus (sometimes called “lockjaw”) and diphtheria are severe, often fatal diseases. Pertussis (“whooping cough”) causes spasms of severe coughing. The vaccines for these three diseases are given in different combinations; your doctor will tell you the type that is recommended for you.

Shingles. Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Though it is painful, shingles usually clears up after a few weeks. But some people—most of them seniors—will develop complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, a very painful and debilitating condition that can last for a long time. And a person can get shingles more than once. If you are 50 or older, whether you have had shingles or not, talk to your doctor about the vaccine; there also is a new vaccine now that may be recommended even if you’ve already had the older type.

Pneumonia (pneumococcal disease). Pneumococcal illness can be very dangerous, causing damage to the lungs, brain, spinal cord and bloodstream, and can lead to hearing loss, seizures, and vision loss. Each year, more than 18,000 seniors die from these complications. The CDC recommends that adults age 65 or older receive two types of pneumococcal vaccine. The two vaccines are not given at the same time.

Other vaccines. People with certain health problems, immunization histories and lifestyles may need additional vaccines. These might include the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) shot, vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and for meningococcal disease.

Vaccines and foreign travel

People traveling in certain parts of the world may come into contact with diseases for which vaccination is recommended or required. These might include vaccines for yellow fever, typhoid and polio. A tetanus booster and measles/mumps/rubella vaccine may also be recommended. The CDC says travelers should receive these vaccines at least 4 – 6 weeks before their trip. Talk to your doctor well in advance of your travel. Visit the CDC Traveler’s Health site to learn which vaccines are recommended for travel in your destination.

Vaccines are safe

The CDC says, “Vaccines are thoroughly tested before licensing and are carefully monitored even after they are licensed to ensure that they are very safe.” Side effects and allergies are rare and usually temporary. Getting vaccinated not only protects seniors from dangerous diseases, but also protects babies who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated and certain vulnerable adults who cannot be vaccinated. Vaccines are covered by Medicare and most private insurances. Talk to your doctor about the immunizations you should receive. Maintain an up-to-date immunization record, and keep it with other important documents. Ask your doctor for a form, or you can download a form here.

The information in this blog post is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Ask your doctor about the immunizations that are recommended for you.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, © IlluminAge 2018

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