Whether young or old, most people know that when flu season hits, it is time to get a flu shot. What some people may not be aware of is the importance of immunization against the flu once you reach the age of sixty-five or have other underlying health issues. Beyond a simple flu shot, older adults need a wider range of immunizations to keep them healthy.
As people age, their immune systems weaken, making it more difficult to fight off the flu. As a result, the flu for seniors becomes much more serious than just a few days in bed. In fact, 90% of flu deaths and hospitalizations occur in adults over sixty-five. This makes it imperative for seniors to receive a flu shot and connect with your primary care practitioner to take advantage of their immunization services.
Timing Is Of the Essence!
Beyond getting a flu shot, the timing of when the shot is received is also important. As you age, your response to immunizations — particularly influenza — changes. It will take longer for your body to build up immunity, so it is important to receive your flu shot as soon as they become available. The CDC recommends a higher-dose flu vaccine for adults 65 and over. This particular vaccine has a higher concentration of antigen which helps older immune systems respond better and create necessary antibodies faster.
Other Immunizations to Schedule:
In addition to a flu shot, there are several other vaccines you should schedule. Not all older adults received all the vaccines they needed when they were growing up and sometimes booster shots are required. Older adults should take advantage of available immunization services and schedule the following:
- Tetanus, Diphtheria, & Pertussis
Vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria should be renewed every ten years as an adult. Pertussis, (whooping cough), is also a concern for older adults that spend time with or around infants. A Tdap vaccine should be received two weeks before spending time with a newborn.
- Chicken Pox / Shingles Vaccine
You may not remember having chickenpox when you were a small child, but it is a good bet that you did. Unfortunately, with chickenpox comes shingles. The same virus causes both, and after the chickenpox have long since faded, the varicella zoster virus, (shingles), sticks around. It can rear its ugly head decades later, and is most common in adults over 50. Singles is a very painful skin rash. The best way to combat it is to have the vaccine. It is recommended that any adult over the age of 60 contact their primary health practitioner to schedule the immunization.
- Pneumococcal Disease: Meningitis, Ear & Sinus Infections
Pneumococcal disease is an infection that can lead to several different types of illnesses in both children and older adults. The most serious of these illnesses is pneumonia which can be deadly. Meningitis, ear infections, and sinus infections are additional examples of pneumococcal disease. It is recommended that all adults over the age of sixty-five receive the PPSV23 vaccine to combat pneumococcal disease.
- Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver which can lead to scarring of the liver and even liver cancer. If you are under 60 years of age and have diabetes, you will want to receive the immunization for hepatitis B. Also, chronic liver disease, other health conditions, or extended travel to a country that has high rates of hepatitis B can be risk factors.
Keeping up-to-date with your immunizations is vital to preventing illness. Talk to your doctor about the following vaccines:
- Influenza shot – once a year to prevent the flu
- Td / Tdap – once every ten years to guard against tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis
- Varicella – two doses
- Zoster – one dose
- PPSV23 (one or two doses) and PV13 (one dose) for preventing pneumococcal illnesses. The schedule for these two shots varies per person depending upon their medical history Please look to the CDC’s recommendations for these vaccines to see what dosage may apply to your loved one.
- Hepatitis B – three doses
For more information on common immunizations for older adults and how to prevent illness, please see the following resources. This information can help you learn about any health concerns or risks surrounding any of these vaccinations, particularly if your loved one has any allergies or pre-existing conditions. The material here may be able to help you decide what questions to ask your family doctor or healthcare provider prior to immunization and avoiding any problems.
- American Geriatrics Society – Pocket Guide
- Main Line Health – Adult Immunizations
- CDC – Adult Immunizations
It might be an old saying, but it is a true one: an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
For more information, please review our Immunization & Vaccination Resources.
How important is flu prevention to you?