Several preventable diseases cause significant illness and even death in unvaccinated seniors. An estimated 45,000 adults die annually from complications due to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Many adults feel that they do not need vaccinations, or worry about side effects from the vaccine itself, but people age 65 and older are at higher risk of complications from the actual diseases.
It is important for older adults to keep vaccines current: they may not have been vaccinated as a child, new vaccinations may now be available, immunity may have faded, and most importantly, seniors are more susceptible to serious and possibly life-threatening infections.
The most important vaccinations seniors should discuss with their physicians include the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia, shingles vaccine, and a tetanus-diptheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
Experts recommend an annual flu vaccination for most adults, and any patient with underlying high-risk conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Getting an annual flu vaccine is necessary since immunity is short-lived and vaccine manufacturers update it every year to make sure it is as effective as possible against the current virus.
You can usually get the vaccine at your doctor’s office, starting in the fall each year. It is commonly available September through April each year depending on supplies.
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 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.
Seniors and others who are high risk for developing pneumonia should receive the pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine as a one-time vaccination.
Patients older than 65 who have previously been vaccinated can get a one-time repeat vaccination, if 5 years or more have elapsed since the original shot and they were younger than 65 at the time of their primary vaccination.
The zoster vaccine, which has only been available for a few years, helps to prevent or minimize a shingles outbreak. Shingles is a very painful, contagious blistering rash. 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, so be sure to discuss any health problems you have with your doctor.
You should get this vaccine if you are less than 64 years old to replace one of the series of tetanus vaccines. It contains the same components as the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine with the addition of the pertussis component.
More and more seniors are getting pertussis, or whooping cough, possibly due to fading immunity. If you are 65 years or older, get the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine without the pertussis component.
Discussing which vaccinations are right for you with your doctor, and making sure to have the needed vaccines on schedule, will help you prevent disease and maintain a healthy active lifestyle.