Children generally come to mind when most of us think of vaccines. However, immunizations are not just for kids. Adults who are not properly vaccinated may be vulnerable to serious illnesses and infections, and seniors with medical conditions may be at increased risk of contracting and spreading serious diseases. Here are some vaccines that help to protect people over age 50.
- Pneumococcal vaccines (to protect against Pneumonia) – these injections protect against the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. The vaccine helps prevent serious cases of pneumonia (infections of the lungs), meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord), and sepsis (the body’s response to infection which causes injury to its own tissues and organs). There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines: conjugate (PCV13) and polysaccharide (PPSV23). PCV13 provides protection against pneumonia and against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. PPSV23 protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Both protect against illnesses like meningitis and bacteremia, a blood infection. If you have not received these vaccines, speak to your doctor to determine if you are a good candidate.
- Herpes Zoster vaccine (to protect against shingles) – this shot is recommended by the CDC for healthy adults age 60 plus. Some doctors even recommend it for patients age 50 or older. Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection accompanied by a painful rash that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus– the same one that causes chicken pox. If a patient has had chicken pox in the past, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue surrounding the spinal cord and brain, able to “reactivate” years later. Getting vaccinated can cut your chances of getting shingles roughly in half. The vaccine can help in three main ways: it can reduce your overall risk of getting shingles, it can shorten the length of the infection if you do contract shingles, and it can help individuals avoid shingles-related health complications. The likelihood of getting shingles increases with age, so it’s important to consider this vaccine if you’re over 60.
- Influenza vaccine (to protect against the flu) – The effectiveness of this yearly shot varies due to the rapidly changing virus that causes the flu. However, new versions are developed to help to provide the highest levels of protection available each year. The flu, a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, can cause mild to serious complications, and even death. The flu virus can also trigger inflammation of the brain, encephalitis, multiple organ failure, and more. Adults aged 65 plus, and older people with chronic conditions, are at increased risk of serious health complications if they become infected. According to the CDC, a special flu shot made with adjuvant (helps to create a stronger immune response) has been approved for people 65 years of age and older. Be sure to ask your doctor about this all-important annual vaccine.
- Tdap vaccine (to protect against whooping cough) – If you did not receive this vaccination as an adolescent, it is recommended you get this shot once to protect against pertussis, also called whooping cough. Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that begins with conditions like those of a common cold. It is then followed by weeks of severe coughing fits. The bacteria that causes whooping cough, Bordetella pertussis, gets into the airways and attaches to the tiny hairs in the lining of the lungs. If you have concerns regarding protection from this highly contagious respiratory disease, contact your doctor.
- Td vaccine (to protect against tetanus and diphtheria) – The Td vaccine protects against two serious, bacteria-caused diseases. While tetanus and diphtheria are rare in the United States, people who are unprotected run the risk of severe complications if infected. Tetanus-causing bacteria can enter the body through cuts, scratches and wounds, and can lead to lockjaw. Tetanus kills 1 out of 10 people who are infected, including those who receive medical care. Diphtheria spreads from person to person through secretions (coughing or sneezing) and can lead to respiratory problems, heart failure, paralysis, and death. The Td vaccine offers protection for adolescents and adults and is usually given as a “booster dose” once every 10 years. Talk to your doctor if you think you may need this shot.
- MMR vaccine (to protect against measles, mumps and rubella) – The measles, or rubeola, is a viral infection of the respiratory system. A highly contagious disease, measles spreads through contact with infected mucus or saliva. The infection can be released into the air when someone coughs or sneezes and can live on surfaces for several hours. Mumps is a contagious disease caused by the paramyxovirus, and is also spread through saliva or mucus. Symptoms generally include fever, muscle pain, headache, fatigue, and painful swelling of the salivary glands. Complications may include meningitis, pancreatitis, and deafness. Rubella, also called German measles, is caused by the rubella virus. It is spread through the air via infected individuals coughing or sneezing. The CDC advises most adults born in 1957 (or afterward who can’t show that they’ve had all 3 diseases) to get an MMR vaccine. Adults born before 1957 are considered immune to measles and mumps. Adults who move to the U.S. from countries lacking immunization programs should find out about getting fully protected.
Risks of vaccine reactions are real. While most side effects are mild, there are some instances where patients may encounter severe reactions after being vaccinated. Thus, it is important to do your research before any receiving any shots. Make sure you are a safe candidate for the shot, weigh the potential benefits against the risks, and understand what side effects to look for should a problem arise. As with any important medical decision, consult with your physician first. Your doctor will discuss several variables with you, including your age, lifestyle, medical conditions, whether you travel, what shots you’ve had, history of allergic reactions, and more to determine your eligibility for vaccinations. Avoid getting vaccinations when you are feeling ill.
Seniors at higher risk, due to lifestyle or other conditions, may ask their doctors about the following:
Hepatitis A Vaccine – Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by a virus. It can occur due to unsanitary food preparation and can be transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route. It is more common in foreign countries but can still occur in the United States.
Hepatitis B Vaccine – Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. A long-term infection, chronic hepatitis B, can damage the liver and may lead to liver cancer or failure, or cirrhosis of the liver. The following can put people at risk for contracting hepatitis B: having sex with an infected person without using a condom, sharing needles with an infected person, getting tattoos or piercings using unsterilized tools, and/or sharing personal items like toothbrushes and razors with an infected person. It can also be passed from infected mother to child. The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.
Meningitis (Meningococcal) Vaccine– Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes (meninges) covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be viral, bacterial, or fungal. There is currently no vaccine to prevent viral meningitis. Meningococcal disease is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis that can lead to widespread blood infection, or sepsis. Bacterial meningitis is usually more serious and can be fatal in the elderly, so it’s important to be protected.
Hib Vaccine (Haemophilus influenzae type b) – Hib disease is any type of infection caused by Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. It is generally spread person-to-person via respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. People who are not actively sick can have the bacteria in their noses and throats, and may spread the bacteria. The Hib bacteria can cause serious diseases like meningitis. This vaccine can be helpful in some adults with certain medical conditions.
This article is strictly informational and should not be taken as medical advice.