Vaccines

Vaccines Seniors Should Consider

When you think of vaccines, you probably associate them with your childhood, but they are just as important to adults and seniors. Also called immunizations or shots, vaccines provide you with immunity from diseases that can range from the flu to meningitis. According to John Muir Health, “an estimated 45,000 adults die annually from complications due to vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Here’s the important piece, those childhood vaccines don’t last forever. As we age, our immunity against diseases eventually wanes. The diseases you were at risk for as a child, once again become a threat as a senior.

Seniors are at particularly high risk for certain diseases due to their changing immune system and their living situations (i.e., senior care centers). Take a look at our list of vaccines seniors should consider to protect yourself and those you love.

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Influenza Vaccine

Every year starting in October the flu starts to come around and causes its annual nuisance. For most people getting the flu is uncomfortable, but doesn’t cause any complications. But for seniors, an influenza infection can be quite serious. With the weakened immune system of an older adult, the flu can cause serious complications like pneumonia or bronchitis. It’s these complications that result in hospitalization and death in seniors.

“In recent years, for example, it’s estimated that between 70-percent and 85-percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50-percent and 70-percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group,” says the CDC. Seniors over 65 should not get the flu nasal spray, but the flu shot. They qualify for a high dose flu vaccine that contains four times the amount of antigen says the CDC.

Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23)

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine also referred to as PPSV23, is the typical pneumonia vaccine that is recommended for seniors. The CDC recommends this vaccine for three groups: adults 65 and older, people 2 through 64 years with certain medical conditions, and those 19 through 64 years who smoke cigarettes.

This vaccine protects you against the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. This bacteria can cause mild infections to very serious, life-threatening infections. By protecting yourself against this bacteria you decrease your chances of developing a serious infection and also protect the people around you. Talk to your doctor to determine if this vaccine is right for you.

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13)

The second kind of pneumonia vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate or PCV13, is recommended for children and babies under 2 years and people over 2 who have certain medical conditions says the CDC. This is not the typical pneumonia vaccine that is recommended for seniors but could be administered if they fall under the latter category of having certain medical conditions.

The CDC recommends administering the PCV13 vaccine, “…based on shared clinical decision-making for adults 65 years or older who do not have an immunocompromising condition, cerebrospinal fluid leak, or cochlear implant and have never received a dose of PCV13.” You’ll need to discuss the best course for your situation with your doctor.

Shingles Vaccine

Think of shingles as your childhood chickenpox infection coming back to haunt you. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, varicella-zoster. If you had chickenpox as a child the virus never left your body. It’s hiding in your nerve cells and can come back as shingles later in life. But here’s the good news, you can significantly decrease your chances of getting shingles by getting the vaccine.

The shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is recommended for anyone over the age of 50 says the CDC and “protection stays above 85-percent for at least the first four years after you get vaccinated.” You will need two total doses of Shingrix, 2 to 6 months apart. You should still get the vaccine if you already have had Shingles, it will protect you from a future recurrence says the source.

DTap

DTaP stands for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. This vaccine is recommended in adults less than 64 years of age according to John Muir Health. Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a contagious respiratory disease that causes uncontrollable coughing fits that can make it hard to breathe. The source reports that “more and more seniors are getting pertussis, or whooping cough, possibly due to fading immunity.”

Booster shots are recommended every 10 years to continue adequate immunity. Talk to your doctor if you have medical conditions or are concerned about your eligibility for receiving the vaccine. By protecting yourself against these diseases you’ll also be protecting those who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A isn’t a standard vaccine that every senior needs. It’s recommended if you travel to countries where hepatitis A is common or engage in recreational drug use, says AARP. Many people don’t even know they are infected, where others can become seriously ill and even lead to liver damage. To give yourself full protection you will need two doses of the vaccine.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is spread through close contact with an infected person, or food that has been contaminated with the virus by an infected person, says the CDC. Thankfully, hepatitis A infections have gone down in the United States since the vaccine was made available. If you are on the fence about getting this immunization talk to your doctor to decide if it’s right for you.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is another vaccine that most seniors do not need but should consider. It is a liver infection that is spread through body fluid (saliva, blood, semen) according to the CDC. This can happen during close contact, sexual activity, sharing needles, and even from mother to baby during childbirth. If you have plans to travel to a location where Hepatitis B is prevalent then talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis B vaccine.

If you and your doctor determine that you do in fact need a hepatitis B vaccine, then you will likely need three doses. AARP reports that “…the second dose [is] given four weeks after the first; the third dose five months after the second.” You’ll want to get all three doses before your travel, so plan ahead and make those vaccine appointments.

Vaccines Seniors Need for Traveling

Travelling puts people at risk to diseases their bodies have never seen before. Older age and a new illness is a poor combination that no one wants to experience while on vacation. Each travel destination has its own list of diseases that the CDC recommends travelers get vaccinated against. This vaccine destinations list covers each disease so you can go into your doctor’s office prepared with information.

Unfortunately, seniors cannot get every vaccine that may be on the destination list. You will need to talk to your healthcare provider to go over any of your pre-existing conditions that could be a contraindication to some vaccines.

Vaccines Seniors Don’t Need

One of the benefits of being a senior is that you don’t need some of the vaccines that your younger counterparts will need. Morgan Katz, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine tells AARP, “anyone born before 1957 wouldn’t need a measles vaccine because the disease was so prevalent when they grew up that immunity as an adult is assumed.”

Most seniors have also been exposed to the chickenpox and won’t need the chickenpox vaccine. However, don’t forget that Shingles vaccine. After a chickenpox infection, the virus can lay dormant in your nerves and rear its ugly head later in life with a painful Shingles rash.

When Seniors Should NOT Get Vaccines

Just because you qualify for a vaccination doesn’t mean you should get it. Seniors can have weakened immune systems and therefore need to discuss the risks and benefits of every vaccine with their providers. In some cases, your medical conditions (i.e., diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease) can be reasons behind not getting a vaccine.

Do not get a vaccine if you’re ill. A runny nose or cough isn’t enough to prevent you from getting a vaccine, but if you have a serious illness then now is not the time for a vaccine. Just reschedule and go when your feeling better. Your body will thank you!

Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler, RN

Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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