A Vaccination Schedule for the Elderly

Staying up to date on vaccinations or immunization is important for everyone. Usually, it is seen that people only worry about a child's vaccination schedule. What many do not realize is that there is no age for most diseases. Most adults are not diligent about getting their own vaccines. The fact is that vaccines received in childhood, including the shots for tetanus and diphtheria, tend to wear off over a period of time. You cannot keep on thinking that just because you got vaccinated in your childhood against a certain disease, that vaccine will keep you safe well into adulthood. Getting vaccinated is particularly important if you are an elderly person over the age of 60 years. The importance of being updated on your vaccines becomes crucial if you are a grandparent, especially if there is a new baby on the way in the family.

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Why is Vaccination So Important For Elderly?

Why is Vaccination So Important For Elderly?

No matter the age, vaccination is one of the most important and effective ways to prevent infectious diseases. To remain healthy and protected from preventable diseases, people must follow the immunization or vaccination schedule given to them by their primary care provider. Vaccination not only protects an individual from serious illnesses, but also from the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases which can lead to amputation, paralysis of limbs, hearing loss, brain damage, convulsions, and even death. People often wrongly assume that many infectious diseases have been eradicated as medical science has progressed. However, vaccine-preventable diseases such as mumps, measles, and whooping cough are still very much a reality and continue to be a threat. These diseases continue to infect children and adults, resulting in hospitalizations, and even deaths in serious cases. There is a growing school of thought present nowadays that vaccinations can be harmful and have side effects. However, all vaccines undergo a long and careful review by doctors, scientists, and even the federal government to ensure their safety.

We take a look at some of the reasons why vaccination is so important, particularly for adults and the elderly.

  • Infectious Diseases Are Very Much Present: In a time when people travel all over the world in a matter of days, it is easy to see how diseases can travel too. The viruses and bacteria that cause infectious diseases still exist and are easily passed on those who are not protected by vaccines. You might have been vaccinated against many diseases during your childhood, but the fact remains that these vaccines do not continue to provide protection forever. After a certain number of years, the protection wears off, leaving you exposed to these vaccine-preventable diseases once again. This is why it is so important to follow an immunization schedule even in the later years.
  • Vaccines Keep You Healthy: According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is recommended that you keep getting vaccinations throughout your life in order to stay protected against infections. By skipping the vaccines, you leave your vulnerable to diseases such as influenza, shingles, pneumococcal disease, hepatitis B, and HPV, etc. HPV and hepatitis B are in fact the leading causes of cancer around the world. One vaccine shot can go a long way in ensuring good health.
  • Diseases Can Strike Anyone: While children and the elderly are at a greater risk of getting infections and further complications from diseases, the fact is that infectious diseases can strike anyone. Even if you are young and healthy, getting vaccinated will ensure that you remain that way.
  • Diseases Are Expensive To Treat: Apart from the physical complications caused by various vaccine-preventable diseases, one has to consider that in the time of rising healthcare costs, diseases take a toll on a household's expenses as well. For example, an average influenza bout can last up to 15 days or longer, leading up to five to six missed work days. Let's look at hepatitis. Adults who get hepatitis A lose out an average of nearly one month of work time. Now think of the expenses attached to getting treated for these diseases. Even if you are covered by insurance, there will be other associated costs of getting well that will pile on over a period of time.
  • Diseases Put Everyone At Risk: If you fall sick, your children, grandchildren, and parents, all are at risk of getting the disease. A vaccine-preventable disease could very well prove deadly to an infant in your family if it spreads to them. Therefore, by getting vaccinated yourself, you are extending that protection to your family as well. In fact, according to the latest statistics, adults are the most common source of spreading whooping cough (pertussis) in infants. While it may not affect adults so much, in infants, whooping cough can be deadly. In 2010 itself, 25 infants died from whooping cough in the United States.

More than 50,000 adults die every year in the US alone because they are not vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases. The chance of experiencing a serious side effect from a vaccine is less than one in a million. It is more likely for a person to suffer a severe allergic reaction from a daily medicine such as aspirin, rather than a vaccine.

Which Vaccines Are Important For The Elderly?

Let us take a look at which vaccines are of utmost importance for the elderly.

Influenza or the Flu Shot

It is surprising to know that almost 90 percent of deaths from influenza happens in people over the age of 60 years. Therefore, getting your annual flu shot or flu vaccine is crucial not just for you, but for keeping your grandkids safe as well. Children have a higher risk of contracting the flu even on ay early basis because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Babies under the age of six months are considered to be too young to receive the flu vaccine. So if there is an infant in the family, it is necessary that the family members are up to date on their flu vaccine.

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It is recommended that all adults get the flu shot at the beginning of the flu season, which usually lasts from October to April in most countries.

MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)

All these three diseases, measles, mumps and rubella, are known to be highly contagious. These are spread by coughing and sneezing, making the diseases airborne and very easy to catch. While mumps and rubella are not that common anymore, measles outbreak does still occur. Measles is a serious disease and complications from it can lead to brain damage, deafness, pneumonia, and even death, especially in small children and infants. Babies get vaccinated against measles when they are 12 months old, so they have a higher risk of contracting the disease before this age. Therefore, to protect infants from measles, it is a must that people around them get the MMR vaccine.

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If you think you have been vaccinated against measles, then a simple blood test is enough to let you know your immunity level. As per the CDC, it is recommended at that least one dose of the MMR vaccine is given to people born after 1957, or those who are not immune to the disease.

Vaccines for Pneumonia

People usually tend to underestimate the severity of pneumonia, particularly in young children and in people over the age of 65 years. Pneumonia is a serious lung infection. You are more likely to get pneumonia if you have just recovered from a cold or the flu. Also, having a chronic illness like heart disease, asthma, cancer or diabetes, makes you more prone to getting pneumonia.

There are two types of vaccines available for pneumonia. These are the PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate) vaccine and PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide) vaccine. For elderly people, it is recommended that you get one dose of each vaccine. Most adults who get the vaccine develop protection for all types of pneumonia within two to three weeks of getting vaccinated.

Shingles

Many may not be aware of what shingles are. Caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, shingles is a painful rash that occurs throughout the body. It may also appear like a stripe of blisters on the body. Pain from shingles tends to persist even after the rash goes away. Shingles are quite common in adults over the age of 60 years. People with shingles are at a higher risk of spreading chicken pox, particularly to infants. Chickenpox in infants is especially dangerous as they can develop serious complications from chickenpox such as pneumonia, encephalitis, or bacterial skin infections.

For adults over the age of 60 years, a one-time shingles vaccine is generally recommended, whether or not they have had chickenpox in the past.

Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis)

The Tdap vaccine provides protection from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). While tetanus and diphtheria are rare in many of the developed countries, they are still found in developing countries. Therefore, during your travels, you might just pick it up without even coming to know of it. Tetanus is found in the soil, dust, and even manure. The bacteria usually enters your body through a cut or an open sore. Therefore, there is really no way of knowing whether you have contracted the disease till the time you fall sick.

Whooping cough, on the other hand, continues to spread and is a highly contagious respiratory disease.

While people of any age can get whooping cough, infants are particularly susceptible to it and it can prove to be deadly for them as they are not vaccinated for whooping cough till they are two months old.

This is why being a grandparent, you must get the Tdap vaccine. Consider this: half of all infants who get whooping cough need to be hospitalized. Statistics also show that four out of every five babies that catch whooping cough, get it from someone at home.

Tdap is usually given as a child, but the immunity it provides fades away with time.

If you are considering getting the Tdap vaccine, then it is recommended that you opt for getting a single shot of Tdap instead of your Td booster (given every ten years).

If you are having close contact with an infant younger than a year old, or if you do not recall ever getting a Tdap vaccine, then it is recommended that you get the Tdap shot even before your Td booster shot is due in the ten-year interval.

You should ideally be vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine at least two weeks before you come into contact with an infant.

Other Vaccinations

Apart from these, there are many other recommended vaccinations that people over the age of 60 should ideally get. Some of these include:

  • Meningococcal Disease
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae Type B)

It is a good idea to discuss with your doctor about what vaccines are necessary after a certain age. Do not build a sense of invincibility around yourself by thinking that you are not going to get the flu or shingles. If there is a small child in the family, then by all means, it is an absolute must that you keep your vaccinations up to date.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: May 23, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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