An Ounce of Prevention

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Vaccinations are one of the best ways we have to prevent many diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several diseases have been virtually wiped out in the United States thanks to immunizations – polio, small pox and diphtheria are among the most notable. Many others have had over 90 percent decrease in reported cases. These include Hepatitis A, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, and tetanus.

Yet, many people don’t get the vaccinations they need to stay well. According to the CDC:

  • Every year, approximately 225,000 people are hospitalized with the flu and thousands die.
  • Another 900,000 people get pneumococcal pneumonia, leading to as many as 400,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths.
  • As many as 1.4 million people live with chronic Hepatitis B, which can cause complications such a liver cancer.

All told, an estimated 45,000 adults die from diseases that vaccines can prevent. Many seniors may feel they no longer need vaccinations or they may worry about side effects. But the truth is that people age 65 and older are at greater risk for getting many of the diseases that immunizations help prevent because the older we get, the weaker our immune systems become. The CDC recommends that people over the age of 65 get vaccinated to help protect against the following conditions:

Seasonal Flu
We’re all familiar with the annual flu shot. It’s the single best way to prevent the flu. Vaccination is particularly important for those over the age of 65, as they are at greater risk for complications. Older Americans have two options available – the regular-dose version or a newer, high-dose alternative, made especially for seniors. A 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the high-dose vaccine was 24.2 percent more effective in preventing the flu in those age 65 and older. Ask your doctor which one is right for you.

Pneumococcal Disease
Pneumococcal disease may manifest as pneumonia, bacteremia (blood infection) or meningitis, among other ailments, with pneumonia being the most common. For those age 65 and above, two separate vaccines are recommended. You should get one does of the PCV13 vaccine and then schedule another appointment to get the PCV23 vaccine. They should not be taken together. Your doctor can tell you when to get your PCV23 shot.

Shingles is an extremely painful, burning rash and people age 60 and older are advised to get the vaccine. While the vaccine may not completely prevent shingles, according to some studies, it decreases your risk by up to 50 percent and may also minimize the severity of the symptoms should you get the disease. Talk to your doctor to see if it’s appropriate for you.

You should continue to get a tetanus/diphtheria (Td) vaccine every ten years. Ask your doctor if he or she recommends getting vaccinated for pertussis (whooping cough) as well. The pertussis vaccination may be recommended if you will come into contact with infants who are too young to be vaccinated against the disease. The good news, either way it comes in a single shot (Td or Tdap).

As with any medical procedure, always check with your physician before getting a vaccination. In addition to getting vaccinations on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor about other ways to prevent disease, including eating well, an exercise program and other ways to boost the immune system.