Published: Jul 12, 2016
Several preventable diseases can cause serious illness and even death in unvaccinated seniors. Many adults believe that they do not need vaccinations, or worry about their side effects, but people age 65 and older are at higher risk of complications from the actual diseases.
There are many reasons why seniors should keep up on their vaccinations. They may not have been vaccinated when they were children, new vaccinations may have been developed and are now available, or their immunity may have expired over time. Even more important, seniors are particularly susceptible to serious and life-threatening infections.
The more crucial vaccinations seniors should discuss with their doctors include the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia, the shingles vaccine, and a tetanus diphtheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
How vaccines work on the body
A vaccine provides immunity from a disease, and can be administered through needle injections, by mouth, or by aerosol. A vaccine will contain the same germs or a part of the germ that causes a certain disease. A good example is the measles vaccine contains measles virus. But the virus is either killed or weakened to the point that it doesn’t make you sick.
A vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease without having to get the disease first. So, unlike medicine, instead of treating or curing diseases – it actually prevents them.
Over 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years and older. That’s why it is recommended that most adults get an annual flu vaccination. Getting an annual flu vaccine is necessary because immunity is short-lived, and manufacturers update the vaccine annually to ensure that it is as effective as possible against the most current virus. The vaccine is usually available September through April each year, but it depends on supply.
Speak to your doctor before getting the flu shot if you are allergic to eggs, latex, have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine previously, or have had Guillain-Barre syndrome. Patients with fevers should wait to be vaccinated until the illness subsides.
Pneumonia causes significant illness in seniors and is responsible for 60,000 deaths each year. People 65 years or older need a series of two different vaccines for pneumococcal disease. Talk with your health care team about how to schedule them, and let them know if you have had a pneumococcal vaccine before.
There are currently two types of pneumococcal vaccines: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). There are more than 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria, and PCV13 protects against 13 types, while PPSV23 protects against 23 types. Both protect against illnesses like meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord) and bacteremia (blood infection). PCV13 also provides protection against pneumonia (lung infection).
Shingles is a very painful, contagious blistering rash caused by a reactivation of the herpes zoster, or chicken pox virus. If you are 60 or older, get a shot to prevent it ─ even if you have already had shingles. The zoster vaccine has only been available for a few years, and decreases your risk of having shingles by about 50 percent, or can minimize its severity. There are risks with the vaccine for people with certain conditions, so be sure to discuss any health problems you have with your doctor.
Get a shot for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. Get a tetanus booster if it has been more than 10 years since your last shot. It contains the same components as the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine with the addition of the pertussis component. More seniors are getting pertussis, or whooping cough, possibly due to fading immunity.
Have a discussion with your doctor about which vaccines he or she recommends, and make sure to have the needed vaccines on schedule to help prevent disease and maintain good health.
Comfort Keepers® can help. Our caregivers, or Comfort Keepers®, can help establish a daily routine with your loved one that promotes good health and independent living. Call your local office today.
John Muir Health. “Senior Immunizations”. Web. 2016.
NIH Health. “Recommended Immunizations For Adults 50+”. Web. 2015.
Vaccines.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 2016.