Vaccines are an important factor in maintaining your good health as you age.
Even if you were immunized as a child, you may still be at risk for contracting certain diseases because some vaccines don’t offer lifetime immunity. Or, with age and changing health conditions, you may be more susceptible to some diseases for which you didn’t receive vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises adults over age 65 to receive several specific vaccines. Before receiving any vaccine, consult your physician to determine which of the following recommended immunizations are right for you:
If you 65 years or older, your risk of complications from the seasonal flu is increased as your immune system weakens with age. Complications, which can include pneumonia, bronchitis, and infections in the sinuses and/or ears, can be more serious for you. People over age 65 typically account for between 50 and 70 percent of flu-related hospital stays. Seniors also represent between 80 and 90 percent of annual deaths related to the flu.
Since the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to develop immunity, the CDC recommends getting your flu shot as early as possible every year. Flu vaccines are changed annually to give the best protection against the most current circulating viruses. The immunity of any flu vaccine only lasts about a year, so repeat annual vaccines are necessary for a lifetime.
Adults over age 65 can choose from one of two types of seasonal flu vaccine: either regular or high-dose. The high-dose vaccine contains four times more antigens than the regular dose. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the high-dose vaccine to be 24.2 percent more effective in preventing the flu versus the regular dose in patients over age 65, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends that all adults over age 65 receive both of the two types of available pneumococcal vaccine to avoid pneumococcal disease. The disease kills about 18,000 people over age 65 each year, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).
Different types of pneumococcal disease result in infections in different parts of your body. Some of the most dangerous pneumococcal diseases include those that affect your lungs (pneumococcal pneumonia), your blood (bacteremia), the covering of your brain and spinal cord (pneumococcal meningitis), and your middle ear (otitis media).
Together, the vaccines offer the best protection against more than one-third of the 90 known types of pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, known as PCV 13 or Prevnar 13, provides protection from 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, or PPSV23, protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.
If you haven’t received either of these vaccines by age 65, the CDC recommends you get one dose of PCV 13 first, followed by PPSV23 six to 12 months later. One dose of PCV provides lifetime protection. However, if you have a chronic health condition, you may need a second dose of PPSV23, usually five years after your first dose.
If you received a dose of PPSV23 before age 65, but have not received PCV 13, the CDC advises waiting at least one year after receiving PPSV23 before receiving your first dose of PCV 13.
Every year, herpes zoster, or shingles, affects about half a million adults over age 60 in the United States, according to the CDC. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. Once you have chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in your body and can reappear later in life as shingles.
Shingles can affect anyone but occurs most often in people over age 60 as immune systems weaken. The disease causes a rash and pain, usually on one side of your body, and most commonly your face or torso. The virus also can cause nerve pain that can last for several months, or years, after the rash disappears. Your risk of having long-term pain from shingles increases with age.
The shingles vaccine is a one-time vaccine recommended for all adults over age 60. It can reduce your risk of getting shingles by 51 percent, and your likelihood of having long-term pain, if you do get shingles, by 67 percent, according the CDC. Even if you’ve had shingles, it can recur. You can receive the vaccine six to 12 months after having shingles to prevent another episode.
Tdap and Td
The Tdap vaccine is a booster vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). The CDC recommends that all adults over age 65 receive a dose of the Tdap vaccine, regardless of when you received your last tetanus booster. Since the original vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis does not provide lifetime immunity against these diseases, it’s important to continue with boosters throughout your lifetime.
Even if you received a pertussis vaccine as a child, the immunity only lasts about five to 10 years. Most pertussis deaths occur in infants younger than 12 months, when infants who are too young to be fully immunized contract the disease from adults. Since pertussis can be mistaken for a cold, you could be putting infants at risk without knowing it if you aren’t vaccinated. The CDC advises that you get your Tdap vaccine at least two weeks before coming in close contact with an infant so you’ll have time to develop immunity against pertussis.
After you receive a Tdap vaccine, the CDC recommends a Td booster, to protect against tetanus and diphtheria, every 10 years. Tetanus results when bacteria enter the body through a puncture wound caused by an object contaminated with infected dirt, animal feces, or saliva. Most fatalities from tetanus occur in adults age 60 and older, and in those with diabetes, according to the NFID.
Diphtheria is a deadly disease that affects the mucous membranes inside your throat and nose. It is rare in the United States, due to vaccinations. However, the disease still exists in developing countries, so continued immunization is necessary.
Depending on other risk factors, including your lifestyle, health history, and current medical condition, your physician also may recommend any of the following vaccines: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis (meningococcal), varicella (chickenpox), Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b), or MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella).
In addition, if you are planning to travel outside of the United States, you may be advised to receive certain immunizations at least six weeks before your departure, depending on your destination.
Stay up to date with your vaccines so you can maintain your health.