Nothing like a global pandemic to drive home the point during National Immunization Awareness Month that for seniors, the difference between life and death could be a simple injection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in early June that hospitalizations and deaths have fallen dramatically among older adults age 65 and up following the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. Last year, 8 in 10 deaths attributed to coronavirus were adults 65 and older. The availability of vaccines has improved vastly over recent weeks, with data showing that 89 percent of Americans age 65 and up have received at least one dose.
While the intense focus on coronavirus continues, we shouldn’t forget that flu and pneumonia still rank among the top health concerns for the elderly. Flu and pneumonia combine to rank ninth on the list of leading causes of death for those over 65, according to the CDC. These are common diseases in older adults—sometimes triggered by cardiopulmonary disease, diabetes or another chronic condition, as was the case in actress Mary Tyler Moore’s death a few years ago.
Being that pneumonia can occur any time of the year and with flu season just a few months away, Amada Senior Care wants to remind seniors and their families of the importance of staying up to date on vaccines. Take time now to talk to your health care provider for more information and a possible recommendation for getting a pneumonia or flu shot.
It’s especially important for seniors to stay current with their vaccinations because some may not have been vaccinated when they were younger, their immunity has faded, or there have been new vaccines developed since their last immunization. Age-related chronic diseases and weakened immune systems also make seniors more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases, according to Dr. Andrew Duxbury, an associate professor in the gerontology, geriatrics, and palliative care division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.
“When older people get the flu and get knocked down further, they are more likely to get other infections such as pneumonia,” Duxbury said. “Just being knocked into bed for as little as three or four days can, in a very frail older person, make it so they lose the ability to talk and do for themselves. It can cause a spiral in disabilities and increase chances of falls and injuries.”
The following are the recommended vaccines for seniors:
Influenza: What may seem like a harmless virus can quickly become a serious health issue for the elderly. The flu is deadliest among the senior population; over 60 percent of seasonal-flu hospitalizations are seniors, and between 80 and 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occurred in those over 65. Seniors should get the flu vaccine annually, as each year the vaccine is designed for the most common strain. There is also a senior-specific injection that is designed to be a higher dose, and it won’t expose seniors to the live virus like a nasal spray vaccine would.
Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis (Tdap): These vaccinations are usually given together as one shot.No matter your age, a tetanus/diphtheria booster is recommended every ten years, or after possible exposure to the virus that causes tetanus (usually enters the bloodstream through an open wound).
Pneumococcal: Pneumonia is responsible for 60,000 deaths every year, and seniors are more likely to contract it. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) is effective against the 23 most common strains of bacteria that cause pneumonia. This is a one-time vaccination, but those over 65 can get a one-time repeat vaccination once five years have elapsed since their original shot (and they were younger than 65 at the time).
Shingles: Of the 1 million Americans who get shingles every year, about half of them are 60 or older. The Zoster vaccine will help prevent or minimize an outbreak of this painful, contagious rash by about 50 percent. Even those who have already experienced an outbreak of shingles can and should get vaccinated to help prevent future occurrences.
There are other vaccines that may be recommended for seniors who did not get them as a child (such as the chickenpox or measles vaccines) or are at risk for certain diseases (such as meningitis). Below is a recommended immunization chart published by the CDC.
With most vaccines, there can be harmful side effects due to a senior’s existing or past health conditions. To learn more about what vaccines are recommended for seniors, read this article from AARP, and talk to your doctor to see which are right for you. You can also take this quiz to see which vaccines the CDC recommends for you.
“What Are the Most Important Vaccines for Seniors?” written by Taylor French and updated by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributors.