When thinking about immunizations, it’s easy enough to think of children first. After all, little ones in this world benefit from receiving protection from all sorts of diseases that are out there. Being fully immunized also keeps them from infecting others.
That’s why pediatricians are good at sharing a recommended immunization schedule with parents to make sure they stay up to date and their children stay safe as well. Many schools also require that these have been followed since it benefits everyone. Many schedules also can go on for years, such as various boosters when a child is 10 or in their teens.
However, it isn’t just children who should be taking preventable precautions such as immunizations: seniors are also considered at a high risk. Certain medical conditions can hit them hard, and recovery can be difficult. Their immune system often becomes weaker as they age. Or they may be dealing with other medical conditions which can make things more severe if they are infected.
The Department of Health and Human Services said seniors find it harder to fight off infection and more likely than younger people to catch diseases like the flu or pneumonia, and also more likely to have complications that could cause more damage, require going to the hospital, or even dying.
A health care provider familiar with patients ages 65 and up will be happy to offer recommendations about which immunizations should be received and what kind of a schedule could be helpful.
Trying to get too many shots at once could be painful, even dangerous, so a provider may instead offer suggestions on which ones to start with. This could be based on the patient’s current health, their age, time of year, their medical history, and any medical conditions or epidemics currently moving through their community that they could be vulnerable to.
Even seniors on a budget can take advantage of free or affordable options for certain common vaccines through Medicare Part B or D.
Plans and recommendations can vary, but vaccines that many seniors should consider include:
- Flu Vaccine: This helps protect against common forms of the influenza virus. It’s traditionally available each fall, based on what health officials believe will be the most common strain for the upcoming winter. Even if someone is infected with a different variation, it may not have as much of an impact if they’ve a recent immunization. For instance, it may make them feel crummy for a few days rather than feeling bad for weeks, requiring hospitalization, or developing into pneumonia. Providers and even some pharmacies offer this each fall. It can be delivered as an injection or even an aerosol mist. A flu vaccine is also recommended if you have other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
- COVID-19. Although lockdowns are over, and most mask requirements have been lifted in many communities, the virus is still around. Modern variations aren’t as dangerous as the ones seen in 2020 and 2021, but it can still cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and future health problems. Even if you had your two-shot immunization early on, medical professionals suggest getting at least one booster, especially if you’re in a higher-risk category by age or medical condition. Or if you’re behind, this is a good chance to catch up and get on a regular schedule.
- Shingles Vaccine: The grown-up version of chicken pox can cause sores and nerve pain. But there’s a two-round vaccine that can keep the virus from resurfacing or minimizing its impact. It’s recommended for anyone age 50, whether they’ve had chicken pox earlier in life or never have had it.
- Tdap or Td booster: Short for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. These dangerous bacteria are typically part of a child’s virus schedule but could also affect older adults. Even if you’ve had these earlier in life, they only last about 10 years until a booster is needed. A tetanus shot is especially recommended if you cut or puncture yourself on metal. Pertussis, also known as whopping cough, can cause respiratory distress, as well as spread to others. Diphtheria can affect tonsils, throat, nose and skin, and is also communicable.
While health care providers will tell you that anytime is a good time for seniors to get current on their immunizations, there are some organizations and occasions throughout the year that encourage this practice even more.
For instance, the World Health Organization sponsors World Immunization Week at the end of April each year. For 2023 the theme was “The Big Catch Up,” which encourages people around the planet to get back to where they were as of 2019 levels. Because the COVID pandemic was so disruptive, it limited many people’s regular schedules.
National Immunization Awareness Month takes place each August. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage parents, caregivers, and adults to learn more about immunizations and ways to reduce vulnerabilities at every age level. The CDC site for the month includes a variety of resources to improve education and awareness of the importance of these measures, such as quizzes and brochures for different age and demographic groups.