Why Vaccines Are Critical for Older Adults, and Which Ones the Experts Recommend
Flu season is almost upon us, and early September is when most people get their flu shots. The flu isn’t the only illness that poses potentially serious health risks, however, particularly for older adults. Here’s what major health organizations, researchers, and clinicians have to say about the benefits of immunization.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Vaccinations currently prevent 3.5-5 million deaths every year from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza, and measles, and that doesn’t even include the millions of deaths prevented by the COVID-19 vaccines.
- Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only dead or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or typically put you at risk for its complications.
Immunizations are more important as we age
Protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time, and age, medical conditions, immune disorders, jobs, lifestyles, and travel can render adults, particularly older adults, vulnerable to a wide variety of viruses and other diseases that are easily preventable.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of adults in the U.S. sicken, are hospitalized, and die from diseases that could have been avoided with immunizations. The immune system’s potency declines as we age, making people 65 and older more vulnerable.
Older adults are also more susceptible to medical complications than younger people, who generally have stronger immune systems and are quicker to heal.
Specific vaccines to consider if you’re 65 or older
Experts at Advent Health recommend several immunizations you should consider getting if you’re over the age of 65:
COVID-19. According to the CDC, between the years 2020 and 2023, the number of deaths in the U.S. involving COVID-19 reached over 255,000 for people aged 65-74, and to more than 298,000 for those aged 75-84, compared to 46,178 deaths for people aged 40-49.
Influenza (flu). The immune system naturally weakens as we age. When your system is compromised by a virus such as the flu, you are more vulnerable to secondary infections like pneumonia.
Pneumonia. Pneumonia sends nearly one million adults in the U.S. over the age of 65 to the hospital each year, and kills about 50,000 of those patients. Two vaccines are available to help reduce the serious health risks for people aged 65 and older from pneumonia: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13), and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax23), and experts recommend getting the vaccines one year apart.
Shingles. Shingles is a painful and potentially disabling viral infection that can emerge from the inactive virus that causes chicken pox. If you’ve ever had chicken pox, then you can potentially get shingles, even decades later. The shingles vaccine has been shown to be about 50% effective for people between ages 65 and 70. Keep in mind, however, that this vaccine is not recommended if you take steroids that suppress your immune system, or if your immune system is otherwise weakened or impaired.
Tetanus and pertussis. These two diseases are not passed from person to person, but can be contracted from your environment, through soil, dust, manure, or a contaminated object that breaks through your skin. Tetanus is potentially life-threatening. These days, tetanus vaccines are usually administered along with a pertussis booster. It’s recommended that you get a tetanus booster every 10 years.
Vaccines generally carry little risk, and are beneficial even for healthy people. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine the best vaccines and immunization schedule for you. You can also check out the CDC’s adult vaccine assessment tool to see vaccine recommendations for your particular age, health condition(s), job, and/or lifestyle.
Guest post By Margalo Eden
The views expressed by the author may not reflect the views of Age Safe America, LLC. The content here should not be taken as medical, legal or financial advice. The content here is for informational purposes only, and because each person is so unique, please consult your own healthcare, legal or financial professional with any questions.