Did you know that immunizations aren’t just for kids? It’s true! Vaccines are recommended from birth through adulthood to provide a lifetime of protection against many serious diseases and infections.
Because our immune systems tend to slow down as we age, our bodies become less capable of fighting off infections such as shingles, influenza and pneumonia. This is why elderly individuals are more likely to suffer from more frequent and severe complications from these illnesses. In fact, flu and pneumonia are among the top 10 leading causes of death in adults over the age of 75 in King County.
Four vaccines for seniors
The good news is that there are several vaccines to help protect you and your loved ones from many of these illnesses:
- Influenza (Flu)—Anyone can get the flu but adults 65 years and older are more likely to suffer serious complications, hospitalizations and even death. Influenza viruses change from year to year so it’s important to get a flu shot annually to help protect you and the people around you. Check with your doctor’s office or pharmacy to discuss which flu vaccine formulation is right for you.
- Pneumococcal—Pneumococcal bacteria can cause serious and life-threatening blood, brain and lung infections, including sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia. Older adults and those with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable to severe complications and even death from these illnesses. If you are an adult 65 years of age or older, you’ll need two different pneumonia vaccines, given at different times, to protect you from pneumococcal disease.
- Shingles (Zoster)—Shingles is a viral infection that occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox “wakes up”—or reactivates—again in your body. It results in a painful skin rash, often with blisters that appear on one side of your face or body. The pain of shingles can linger long after the blisters have healed. It’s most common among people over the age of 60 and those with weakened immune systems. The shingles vaccine, recommended for anyone age 60 or older, can help reduce the risk of shingles or lessen the severity of the illness. People with certain medical conditions should not receive this vaccine, so be sure to discuss any health problems you have with your doctor.
- Tetanus, Diphtheria & Pertussis (Td/Tdap)—Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). As with other illnesses, tetanus tends to be more common and severe among people over the age of 65 years. Researchers have also found that tetanus and diphtheria protection levels decline as we age. Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can be especially dangerous for babies younger than 12 months old, and outbreaks have also been known to occur in nursing homes and hospitals. To protect yourself and to avoid spreading whooping tough to others, make sure you’ve had a single lifetime dose of Tdap vaccine. This should be followed by a Td booster shot every 10 years.
Other vaccines such as hepatitis A; hepatitis B; measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib); and meningococcal meningitis may also be recommended for older adults with certain risk factors or health conditions. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist to determine which vaccines you need. And remember—getting immunized is a life-long, life-protecting job!
Contributor Libby Page, Public Health—Seattle & King County, was interviewed for an article in our November 2015 issue. Please read Good News for the Flu Season: Better Vaccine and a High-Dose Option and talk with your health care provider. For more on adult immunizations from Public Health—Seattle & King County, click here. Keep up with the latest from Public Health—Seattle & King County by subscribing to The Public Health Insider at www.publichealthinsider.com.
Photo at top by James Gathany, courtesy of Judy Schmidt, CDC.