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Important Immunizations for Older Adults

Immunizations are not just for the young. In fact, you could argue that they are every bit as important for older adults as they are for infants and young children. Thousands of seniors suffer needlessly every year from illnesses that could have been prevented by vaccines—and those over age 65 are 100 times more likely to die from these preventable diseases than children are.

At your loved one’s next medical appointment, be sure to review the most commonly recommended vaccines to see which (in addition to the flu shot) your family member might need. (And ask which you might need, to prevent exposing your loved one to illness.)

Pneumococcal (pneumonia)

Why you need it:

  • Pneumonia is the number one cause of serious illness in the United States, affecting about 900,000 Americans every year and accounting for as many as 400,000 hospitalizations.
  • Between 5 and 7 percent of those who contract pneumonia will die from it, including nearly 20,000 Americans age 65 and older
  • There are more than 90 known types of bacteria that can cause pneumonia, so having had the disease doesn’t protect you from contracting it again.

Usually just one shot will do it, although a second might be needed if the first was administered before the patient was 65. Protects against pneumonia, infections of the blood stream, and some forms of bacterial meningitis. It’s also recommended for people with such chronic conditions as asthma, heart disease, and diabetes. Covered under Medicare Part B.

Herpes Zoster (shingles)

Why you need it:

  • Shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that happens when a dormant chicken pox virus becomes active again later in life.
  • About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles, and 10 percent of them will suffer from nerve pain that may last for years.
  • If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re at risk—and risk increases with age.

There are two shingles vaccines:

  1. Shingrix is the name of the new vaccine. Approved in 2017, it’s more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and nerve pain. Shingrix is given in two doses, given 2 to 6 months apart. It’s recommended for healthy adults age 50 and older, and it’s safe for people who have already had shingles (you can get them more than once). Shingrix may not be covered by insurance, so verify before scheduling the immunization. And be sure to schedule both doses!
  2. Zostavax is the one-time vaccine approved for adults age 60 and older. It’s recommended for people who are allergic to Shingrix or who require immediate protection. Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover it, but check your plan, as copay/coinsurance amounts vary.

Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis)

Why you need it:

  • Tetanus (also known as “lockjaw”), diphtheria, and pertussis (or whooping cough) are serious diseases.
  • Whooping cough can exacerbate incontinence and cause rib fractures.
  • As many as 5 percent of adults who contract it are hospitalized or have complications, including pneumonia or death.

Most people are first immunized against these diseases as children, but in order to stay protected TD (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shots are necessary every ten years. Covered under most Medicare Part D plans.

A doctor’s advice is, of course, essential to making the right vaccine choices: Some vaccines are not recommended for those with certain chronic diseases; other illnesses may require additional doses. Immunizations that your loved one’s physician might also suggest include MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and meningitis. To help you do your research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has some handy tools, including a vaccine quiz and an Adult Immunization Scheduler that offers personalized recommendations. Staying informed and up to date will help ensure the good health of your loved one.

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