Protect Your Health With These Vaccinations

The topic of vaccines is in the news a lot these days as scientists race to develop an immunization to fight the coronavirus. Yet as we focus on the possibility of a vaccine for COVID-19, let’s not forget the other vaccines that are currently available to protect our health, independence and even our lives.

Talk to your doctor about the immunizations that are right for you. For most older adults, these shots are recommended:

Annual seasonal influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources.” And timing is key: The CDC recommends that older adults get their shot during September or October.

We need to get a flu shot each year, because the influenza viruses that spread are different each year. For older adults, the flu raises the risk of pneumonia, inflammation of the heart or brain, organ failure and sepsis. It can cause weakness that increases the risk of falls, too. And 90% of people who die as a result of the flu are older than 65.

For people older than 65, a higher-dose shot is usually recommended. The CDC does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine for adults older than 50.

Tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis. Tetanus (sometimes called “lockjaw”) and diphtheria are severe, often fatal diseases. Pertussis (“whooping cough”) causes spasms of severe coughing. The vaccines for these three diseases are given in different combinations; ask your doctor which type is recommended for you, and whether you need a booster. This vaccine is especially important if you’re about to become a grandparent! Most pediatricians recommend that parents keep very young babies away from people who aren’t up to date on their pertussis vaccine – yes, that includes grandparents. Right now, many grandparents are very unhappy to be socially distancing from grandkids. This is a step they can take to be ready when it’s OK to be back together again.

Shingles. Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. A case of shingles usually clears up after a few weeks. But some people – most of them older adults – will develop complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, a condition that can last for years and causes pain, hypersensitivity of the skin and even paralysis. Shingles also can damage vision and hearing. Did you get a shingles shot a few years ago? Ask your doctor if you should also receive the new, more effective two-dose Shingrix shot. The Shingrix vaccine has been found to be 90% effective against the disease.  

Pneumonia (pneumococcal disease). Pneumococcal illness can be very dangerous, causing damage to the lungs, brain, spinal cord and bloodstream, and can lead to hearing and vision loss, seizures, and death. The CDC recommends that adults age 65 or older receive two types of pneumococcal vaccine. The two vaccines are not given at the same time.

Other vaccines. Older people with certain health problems, immunization histories and lifestyles may need additional vaccines. These might include the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) shot, vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and for meningococcal disease. Few of us are making trips outside of the country these days, but if you are planning foreign travel, you might need other shots, as well. Talk to your doctor well in advance of your trip.

Is it safe to be vaccinated at this time?

Healthcare organizations report that many people are hesitant to receive routine preventive care during the pandemic. But these days, clinics and pharmacies are taking stringent precautions to keep patients safe, using protective equipment, requiring staff and patients to wear a mask, and rearranging schedules and offices to maintain social distancing. Talk to your healthcare provider about the vaccines that are recommended for you.