When we start thinking about autumn leaves, tailgating, and trick-or-treat, it’s also time to think about annual adult vaccinations. Cold and flu season accompanies the cooler weather, and – as the old saying goes – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That ounce of prevention can be crucial to aging adults who may be more susceptible to illness. Though we immediately think of the flu vaccine in the fall, the flu shot is one of only four types of vaccines you may want to consider for yourself or an older loved one.
The flu vaccine is definitely recommended for pretty much everyone, both old and young, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Adult vaccinations for influenza can be especially important, though, considering the statistics for influenza deaths. The CDC says those who lost their lives as a result of flu are overwhelmingly in the 65 and older age group (between 80 and 90 percent).
After getting the flu shot, it can take about two weeks for our bodies to respond to the vaccine and produce the antibodies needed to fight the virus, so adult vaccinations are more effective before the beginning of the flu season, which runs from October through April or even May. As soon as vaccines are available in August or September, go ahead and get the flu shot.
And, yes, you should get a flu shot every year. That’s because the vaccinations are manufactured to address specific strains of influenza that researchers expect to be circulating during the coming year. Since the particular virus may change from year to year, so does the vaccine.
Getting a flu shot doesn’t mean you won’t get flu, but it does mean you will be better protected and, if you do get the virus, your illness may be much less severe than it otherwise would have been.
BEYOND THE FLU VACCINE
Other adult vaccinations are important in addition to the flu shot, so don’t forget those. Chief among them is the pneumonia vaccine. Pneumococcal disease can be the lung infection we most commonly associate with the term pneumonia, but can also be meningitis and bloodstream infections (sepsis). According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, pneumococcal infections are responsible for the deaths of over 18,000 adults age 65 or over each year.
There are two different types of pneumonia vaccines—one that is routinely given to infants and young children and one that is more often administered to adults. The CDC is now recommending that older adults receive both types of pneumonia vaccines, though. A booster shot should be administered every 5 years as well. Be sure to check health records for yourself and your loved one and talk with your doctor about getting the pneumonia vaccine.
Another adult vaccination you may want to consider is the shingles vaccine. This vaccine can help reduce the likelihood of getting shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), or the painful neuropathy that can stick after shingles. At this time, the CDC recommends the vaccine for adults age 60+ regardless of past history of chicken pox. Clinical trials showed the vaccine reduced the occurrence of shingles by 51% and reduced the occurrence of PHN by 67%.
The vaccine provides protection for about 5 years, so there are still some questions surrounding the vaccine and the timing for adult vaccinations. The vaccine is actually approved for adults age 50 and over; however, the age-range recommended for vaccination begins at age 60 because the vaccine’s effectiveness decreases with time. Since the onset of shingles is more likely to happen as we’re older, the exact timing of the vaccine should be discussed with your doctor. There has been some research regarding a booster shot for the shingles vaccine, but a booster is not yet approved.
One other vaccine older adults may want to consider is the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. Children receive standard vaccinations that include the whooping cough vaccine, and young adults should receive a booster shot. The disease can cause serious complications and even death in infants, and the CDC reports a rise in the incidence of whooping cough in the United States since the 1980s.
Older adults may want to consider a booster vaccination if they plan to be around infants who are more susceptible to the disease. Adults with whooping cough experience severe coughing spells, gasping for air, and even cracked ribs. If an adult passes the infection to an infant, though, the infant can be at much greater risk of serious symptoms or death.
Your doctor will be able to advise you which adult vaccinations are most beneficial to you and when you should consider getting vaccinated. Make a list of questions you can ask your doctor during your next visit or your loved one’s next visit. We’ll be offering the flu shot on-site for residents at Woodland Ridge Assisted Living & Memory Care, so stay tuned for details.