Immunizations are an important part of preventive care for everybody, but it is common for many people to believe “shots” are primarily a concern for children. Getting vaccinated can help to keep people, families and even entire communities healthy and safe.
In particular, vaccines are important for older adults. Our immune systems get weaker as we age, which makes it more difficult to fight off infections. Older adults are not only more likely to gets diseases like the flu or pneumonia – they are also more likely to suffer from complications that can lead to long-term illness, hospitalization or even death. Having a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart disease makes this risk even higher.
Which vaccines are recommended for adults age 65 and older?
Talk to your doctor about the vaccines that are most appropriate for you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 50 years and older should have the following
Shingles vaccine. Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful viral infection that normally looks like a blistering rash, often with oozing and crusting. The rash most commonly wraps around the left or right side of the torso, although it can appear anywhere on the body. Shingles is a nerve infection, and many people report having shooting pain along the rash. The infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, and anyone who has ever had and recovered from chickenpox is at risk for shingles. Nearly 33% of people in the United States will develop singles at some point during their lifetime, and risk increases with age.
Flu vaccine. Influenza is a virus that spreads primarily from person to person, and typically around the fall through spring months. In most cases, the flu will just run its course, but complications are possible. More than 60% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations each year occur in people older than 65 years of age.
Pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumococcal vaccines protect against pneumococcal disease, including infections in the lungs and bloodstream. Common symptoms of pneumococcal disease include fever, chills, cough and chest pain, and older adults may also experience confusion or low alertness rather than the more common symptoms. This vaccine is recommended for all adults over 65 years old, and for adults younger than 65 years who have certain chronic health conditions like diabetes.
Td or tdap vaccine. These vaccines protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Tetanus is contracted via a wound or cut and affects the brain the nervous system. 20% of people who contract tetanus die from the disease. Diphtheria is a very contagious infection that makes it difficult to breathe. In severe cases, it can cause heart and nerve damage. Pertussis (whooping cough) is an extremely contagious respiratory infection that can lead to severe breathing problems. There is a characteristic “whoop” noise that can be heard when an infected person tries to take a breath after coughing.
Chickenpox vaccine. If you did not have chickenpox (varicella) or receive the vaccine as a child, you should make sure to get it. Chickenpox is ordinarily a childhood disease because of how contagious it is, but the risk of hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults. Chickenpox may cause complications such as pneumonia or, in rare cases, an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), both of which can be serious.
Other Considerations for Immunizations
Depending on certain other factors besides age and chronic disease, you may also need other vaccines. Speak with your doctor to learn more about vaccines for:
- Gay or bisexual men
- Health care workers
- Military members
- Pregnant women