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Important Immunizations for Older Adults

Immunizations are not just for young people. In fact, you could argue that they even more important for older adults than for infants and young children. Thousands of seniors get sick, sometimes seriously, every year from illnesses that can be 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, ask their doctor about which vaccines for seniors (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.)

Important vaccinations for older adults include:

Pneumococcal (pneumonia) Vaccine for Seniors

Why it’s important:

  • Pneumonia is the number one cause of serious illness in the United States. It affects about 900,000 Americans every year and accounts for as many as 400,000 hospitalizations.
  • Between 5 and 7 percent of those who contract pneumonia will die from it. This includes nearly 20,000 Americans age 65 and older
  • More than 90 types of bacteria that can cause pneumonia. Having the disease doesn’t protect you from getting it again.
  • Protects against pneumonia, infections of the blood stream, and some forms of bacterial meningitis.

Usually just one shot will do it, although a second might be needed if the first was administered before the patient was 65. It’s also recommended for people with chronic conditions as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Covered under Medicare Part B.

Herpes Zoster (shingles) Vaccine for Seniors

Why it’s important:

  • Shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash. It 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, 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) Vaccine for Seniors

Why it’s important:

  • Tetanus (also known as “lockjaw”), diphtheria, and pertussis (or whooping cough) are serious diseases.
  • Whooping cough can make incontinence worse, and cause rib fractures.
  • As many as 5 percent of adults who contract whooping cough 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. People with certain chronic diseases should avoid some vaccines. 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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