National Immunization Awareness Month: Which shots do seniors need?

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August is National Immunization Awareness Month. 

For seniors, this time should serve as a vital reminder of the important role that vaccines play in maintaining their health. As adults age, their immune systems becomes weaker, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports. Immunizations can help prevent diseases that may have severe consequences for seniors. Yet despite their benefits, research shows that most Americans over the age of 60 don’t get all the inoculations they need to protect themselves.

Why seniors need immunizations
Because of seniors’ declining immune systems, they become not only more vulnerable to catching diseases, but they also face drastically increased risks that they develop complications from these illnesses. They’ll also typically take longer to heal, or will experience lasting side effects from their sicknesses. While trying to fight off one disease, the immune system gets even weaker, which makes them more susceptible to contracting additional illnesses. The compound effects of even typically mild viruses, like influenza, can become deadly under these conditions.

The Library of Medicine reports that older immune systems have a harder time detecting cell defects, which includes invasions from dangerous viruses and bacteria. Immune cells die off at faster rates in older ages, and are slower to replenish. This puts added stress on the healthy cells. 

To improve seniors’ chances of avoiding dangerous illnesses, they should be inoculated against the most common and risky conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that older adults should get scheduled immunizations for the flu, shingles and pneumonia, and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, with the latter three available in one vaccine called the Tdap vaccine. 

Vaccines can drastically reduce the risks of severe illnesses for seniors.Vaccines can drastically reduce the risks of severe illnesses for seniors.

Most seniors are not adequately vaccinated 
Yet, despite the risks of not acquiring immunizations, PBS reports that 75 percent of adults over the age of 60 don’t get the shingles vaccine, one of the most important shots for seniors to get. It only takes one dose to protect against the shingles virus.

“Approximately 33 percent of seniors don’t get their yearly flu vaccine.”

Shingles is caused by the same virus that leads to chicken pox, but the effects of shingles can be much more severe and long lasting. It can cause fever, rashes and most notably, it can be very painful. The pain can linger for weeks, months or even years in some cases. The CDC reports that the shingles vaccine has very mild and short-lived side effects, perhaps some swelling or itching at the injection site. They’re also relatively easy to obtain – doctors, pharmacists and health clinics routinely offer the shot, and it may be covered by certain insurance or Medicare plans.  

At the same time, approximately 33 percent of seniors don’t get their yearly flu vaccine. Forty percent are missing shots for pneumonia. More than 50 percent of people over age 60 are skipping updates to their tetanus vaccines. 

A big part of the problem in getting seniors to receive their vaccines is education – many are simply unaware of the shots they need or how to get them. Doctors and loved ones should talk to seniors about immunizations and suggest appropriate shots to get. Seniors should be sure to ask their doctors about the vaccines they’re eligible for at their next appointment, or schedule one specifically for getting caught up on immunizations. Doctors can assess which inoculations are most effective and secure for their needs, so they can be confident the vaccines will be safe for them. 

So take some time this August to talk to your doctor or find more information for your older loved ones about how to get their immunizations.