Measles, diphtheria, mumps, smallpox, rubella, polio, tetanus – these are all serious infections from the past eliminated by vaccines. As adults, we don’t think much about booster shots or vaccines, probably because we know we were administered those vaccines when we were toddlers. Or there was the time we inevitably stepped on a rusty nail, were scolded by our mothers for walking barefoot, and ended up in the doctor’s office getting a tetanus shot. Even though some childhood vaccines protect us for a lifetime, there are booster doses of others and new ones that are vital for our health as we age. There are vaccines today that didn’t exist 50 years ago and some need to be repeated due to your immunity eventually wearing off.
What exactly are vaccines? Vaccines hold dead or weakened disease-causing micro-organisms. Your body’s immune system will produce antibodies that fight the microorganisms, making you immune to a specific disease once your body has these antibodies on hand. Most vaccines are administered through an injection in the arm; some are administered by mouth or nasal spray.
Vaccines Older Adults Need:
Pneumococcal (polysaccharide) vaccine. One of the leading causes of death in the United States from a vaccine-preventable disease is infection caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Pneumococcal infections are spread through respiratory secretions, like coughing and sneezing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people 65 and older receive one dose of pneumococcal vaccine.
Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis booster (TD/Tdap booster). Tetanus is a more serious threat in older adults and leads to death about 10 – 20% of the time. Also known as lockjaw, tetanus is a serious disease of the nervous system caused when bacteria found in soil, dust, or manure enters the body through a skin lesion. Diphtheria is a respiratory disease caused by a bacterial infection that can result in airway obstruction, coma, and death — if left untreated. The CDC recommends a tetanus booster once every 10 years because your immunity eventually wears off.
Herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine. Related to chickenpox, Herpes zoster (also known as shingles) is a painful skin rash that can lead to serious complications and even death. More than 1 million people in the United States develop shingles each year. It more commonly affects people 50 and older. The CDC recommends people 60 and over receive one dose of the herpes zoster vaccine, regardless if they have had shingles in the past or not.
Influenza vaccine. Commonly referred to as the flu, 5 – 20% of the population contracts aninfluenza infection every year. Older adults are at the highest risk of developing serious complications leading to hospitalization and sometimes death. Beginning at 50, everyone should receive one dose of influenza vaccine each year prior to the start of flu season (between October and November).
Other vaccines may be needed, depending on your individual risk factors. These vaccines could include: Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), Varicella (chickenpox), Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Meningococcal (meningitis). Various risks could be involved if you have health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney problems or a condition that weakens the immune system.
You probably don’t go walking around barefoot outside anymore. However, take a look at your immunization records and I bet you’ll find you might be due for a tetanus shot or some other vaccine. Talk to your doctor about the best immunization schedule for you.
*Statistical and preventative information taken from http://www.everydayhealth.com/senior-health/vaccines-for-seniors.aspx
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