Important Vaccinations for Seniors

January 10, 2020
Older woman getting a shot by a health care provider

Keeping up to date on vaccines is crucial and can prevent health complications.

Between compromised immune systems and the effects of aging, older adults often find it harder to fight off viruses, states Sarah Branam, DO, of TexomaCare – Family Medicine. Here, she shares information about why seniors should be mindful of getting their immunizations.

The Flu Shot

The flu can cause serious complications for people over age 65, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalization and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there were close to 68,500 seniors who died during the 2017-2018 flu season.

“Older adults may also have other health issues — such as neurological conditions, asthma, heart disease, kidney problems or diabetes — that make them susceptible to flu-related complications,” says Dr. Branam. If you develop a fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headache, body aches and chills, you could have the flu. The flu virus strain changes every year, and it takes about two weeks for immunity to build up. That’s why doctors usually recommend getting a flu shot each year to further minimize health risks.

To find a doctor, call 903-416-DOCS (3627) or search for one online.

Pneumonia Vaccine

Dr. Branam says there are two different pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia prevention in adults age 65 or older. “The first vaccine is given because it helps produce a better immune response to different strains of pneumococcal bacteria. The second is given one year later to protect against additional strains,” she says. Both shots can help protect against pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream).

Shingles

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nearly one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime, and the risk increases with age. If you had chicken pox as a child, the virus can reactivate later as shingles. Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the body, and consists of blisters that eventually scab over. It can also cause long-term nerve pain and affect your vision if the rash appears on your face. The vaccine is recommended for all adults over age 50, even if you are not sure if you had chicken pox and even if you have already had shingles.

Tetanus Vaccine

You may have gotten the tetanus shot (Td) many years ago, but you should get a tetanus booster every 10 years. “If you step on a rusty nail or are injured by a contaminated object, you are at risk for tetanus, which may cause severe muscle spasms and can be life threatening,” Dr. Branam says. Getting a booster every 10 years will greatly decrease your risk.

If you spend time around young infants, the CDC recommends a one-time booster of Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis). This provides protection against pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Adults may have only mild or no symptoms, but pertussis is highly contagious and can be life-threatening for babies under a year old.

Dr. Branam cautions that while it is good to keep current with immunizations, they may not be right for everyone. “Some vaccines may interfere with or cause further issues for those with certain health conditions,” she says. “Talk with your doctor or other healthcare professional to find out which vaccines are recommended for you at your next medical appointment.”