Q: The nurse that holds a weekly health clinic at the elder housing where I live has been talking to several of us about vaccinations. She is encouraging me to get updated on one immunization and to get two others for the first time. I always thought once you got to my age you no longer needed to get all these shots. Where do I get information to help me make a decision?
A: The need for vaccinations doesn’t suddenly stop when someone becomes a “senior citizen”. First of all immunity can begin to fade over the years. In addition as we go through the aging process we become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Preventions) thousands of older adults die or have significant complications every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.
The CDC, Administration on Aging and various other medical groups are in general agreement on the following recommendations regarding vaccinations for older adults. Influenza vaccine should be given every year not only to protect the patient but for everyone they are in contact with. It is estimated around 36,000 people in the U.S. die every year from the flu, most of the deaths are for those over the age of 65. Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine reduces the risk of contracting potentially fatal infections. Adults over the age of 65 who have had 3 shots during their lifetime should get a booster shot every 10 years. Pneumococcal vaccine not only minimizes the risk of pneumonia but also infections in the blood stream (bacteremia) and covering of the brain (meningitis) caused by pneumococcal disease. Long-term smokers and those with chronic health conditions are especially vulnerable.
Have you noticed the advertisement on television lately depicting the pastor’s wife suffering from shingles or have you known someone personally with shingles? This disease results in a painful, blistering rash and in some instances the pain lasts long after the rash has healed. Shingles occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox reactivates. One shot of the shingles vaccine reduces the risk for adults 60 years and older. The shingles vaccine differs from other vaccines covered under Part B Medicare, this vaccine is covered by Part D (prescription drug plan). Before anyone on Medicare gets this vaccination they should clearly understand the coverage rules of their plan and where to get the vaccine.