Why Immunizations Are Important for Older Adults

2018-08-06T12:16:29+00:00

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and, while many people may associate immunizations with children, it’s important for older adults to stay up-to-date on vaccinations as well.

As you age, the immunity provided by your childhood vaccines may wear off, leaving you vulnerable. Seniors and people who have a health condition—like heart disease or diabetes—are particularly at risk and should keep current on vaccinations.

Three of the major immunizations recommended for older adults are for influenza, pneumococcal, and shingles.

What You Should Know About the Flu

You should be immunized for influenza every year to protect against this illness, which can be serious or even deadly. According to Harvard Medical School data, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die in the U.S. each year from the flu.

Annual flu immunizations are important because the virus changes from year to year, so manufacturers create a new vaccine each flu season. For the best protection, the Centers for Disease Control recommends getting vaccinated early in the season, as it takes two weeks to take full effect.

While getting a flu shot does not guarantee you will not get the flu, it is one of the best ways to prevent illness. Getting the shot protects your loved ones, too, particularly if they are too young to be vaccinated or have a condition that prevents them from getting immunized.

And don’t worry—according to the Mayo Clinic, you cannot get influenza from the flu shot. The vaccine contains a latent (dead) virus that cannot infect you.

Protecting Yourself From Pneumonia

Pneumococcal illness kills thousands of adults each year, including approximately 16,000 adults 65 years or older, and thousands more are hospitalized with pneumococcal infections of the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (bacteremia), and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

The CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccines for adults 65 years or older, for people age 2 through 64 who have certain medical conditions, and adults 19 to 64 years old who smoke.

There are two different vaccinations—PCV13 and PPSV23—and the CDC recommends against getting both at the same time. If you need both, the CDC suggests getting the PCV13 first and asking your healthcare professional when to get the second.

Shingles Can Be Painful

Shingles is a common condition that can result in a painful rash, and your risk for shingles increases as you get older. If you have had chicken pox, you are at risk for shingles, which is caused by the same virus.

The CDC says people 60 or older should get the shingles vaccine even if you don’t remember having had chicken pox. Studies show that over 99 percent of Americans over 40 have had it, even if they don’t recall getting the disease. There’s no maximum age for getting the shingles vaccine.

The CDC adds that even people who have had shingles should get vaccinated to help prevent future outbreaks. Consult your healthcare provider to determine when you can be vaccinated if you have had shingles.

In addition to these immunizations, the CDC recommends one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) if you did not get it as a child or adult. You should also get a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years.

There are other vaccinations available, and some immunizations depend on your lifestyle. If you have any questions about whether or not you should have a certain vaccination, be sure to contact your care team, which can help you find answers to your questions or schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.