As we age, our immune systems tend to weaken. We tend to lose our ability to fight off certain bugs. One way to help increase our chances of preventing or decreasing the severity of those infections is to build up our immune system through vaccination.
Here are some facts about vaccination and immunization:
About 70,000 adults die annually of only two of the vaccine-preventable diseases alone – Pneumococcus and Influenza.
Most vaccines are safe to administer. Side effects are mostly minor in nature.
The bigger problem with vaccination is the missed opportunity to vaccinate, based in part upon public misconceptions about the its safety. There are very few reasons why a particular individual should not receive a specific vaccine.
Here are 4 vaccines recommended for all older adults. At least discuss with your primary care provider. These can decrease your chances of getting the disease. If you do get the disease despite vaccination, it will decrease the chances severe illness and also decrease your chances of dying from it.
These are the 4:
Tetanus Vaccine – Recommended every 10 years or single Td booster vaccine after age 50. The Tdap version of the vaccine is recommended in adults over age 65 who have never received that type, especially if they have contact with infants younger than 1 year (grandkids). Discuss your vaccination history and needs with your doctor. -Tetanus is caused by toxins released by a bug called Clostridium Tetani. The bug lives in the soil and typically gets into the body through wounds (cuts and punctures from objects that introduce the bacteria into the body – rusted nails, knives, tin cans, etc.) -Once in the body, the toxins attach the nervous system causing muscle spasms like ‘Lockjaw” and could affect the ability to breath and cause death. -Tetanus, though rare in the United States, occurs mostly in older adults who have not been properly vaccinated against it. Patients above age 60 account for about 60 percent of all cases of tetanus in the United States.
Influenza Vaccine (the Flu) – Recommended every year. -9 out of 10 people killed by the Flu in the United States are 60 years or older. Seniors are also more likely to get very sick and end up in intensive care units (ICU) when they get the flu. -Studies have shown that the Flu shot may reduce the number of cases of the Flu, the number of people who require hospital stays from the Flu, as well as decrease the number of deaths from the Flu. One of the most recent studies suggests that the vaccine could cut older adult deaths from the Flu by half. -One variation of the vaccine, the high-dose Fluzone, seems to work better for seniors.
Pneumonia vaccine (Pneumococcal Vaccine) – Recommended every 5 years. Discuss with your primary healthcare provider. -Pneumonia is swelling in the lungs usually caused by infection. Infectious pneumonia can be caused by many different types of bugs (bacteria, viruses, etc). -The most common cause of pneumonia in adults is a bug called Pneumococcus (Streptococcus Pneumoniae). Seniors who develop Pneumococcal pneumonia, have a very high chance of getting very sick requiring intensive care or dying. The Pneumonia vaccine aims to decrease the likelihood of this infection. -There are currently 2 types of vaccine that most seniors older than 65 years must receive – PCV13 and PPSV23. The timing of the vaccination varies according to prior history, so we recommend discussing with your primary care provider.
Herpes Zoster Vaccine (Shingles) -Shingles (Herpes Zoster) is causes by the Varicella Zoster Virus. This virus remains in nerve endings usually after exposure to Chicken Pox (same virus causes Chicken Pox). It does not cause any symptoms for many years. Under certain conditions like a weakened immune system and stress, the virus may migrate to the skin and cause a rash. -One million people develop Shingles every year in the United States. About 32 percent of the population will develop Shingles over their lifetime. -The vaccine has been approved by the FDA for adults over the age of 50 who have normal immune systems.
For more information about these and other recommended vaccines for all ages, visit the CDC’s vaccine recommendations website