August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a designation meant to help raise awareness about disease prevention, immunization, and vaccines for seniors, adults, and children. Research published recently by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that many older adults aren’t receiving vaccinations for several key diseases, including pneumonia and influenza (the flu). In fact, nearly 30 percent of U.S. citizens aged 65 and older opted not to get a flu shot last year, according to the CDC.
As we grow older, our immune system ages as well, becoming less effective at fighting off bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. “As we get older, our immune system becomes much less robust, which means we’re not just more at risk for getting diseases like the flu…but of developing life-threatening consequences from them,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
For older adults wanting to receive vaccinations, the CDC suggests five “must have” vaccines, all of which are often covered by private health insurance or Medicare Plan B and D.
Flu Shot. Seniors who receive a flu vaccine typically cut their risk of contracting the disease by 40 to 60 percent. While the flu vaccine may not prevent everyone from contracting the virus, it can help reduce the severity of the illness and help prevent life-threatening complications.
Pneumonia Vaccine. When considering vaccines for seniors, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that adults aged 65 and older receive two combined vaccines, one year apart, for sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. Pneumonia claims the lives of nearly 18,000 seniors in the U.S. each year.
Shingles Vaccine. Shingles occurs when the chickenpox virus reactivates inside adults who had chickenpox as a child. Shingles causes painful, blistering skin rashes that can last several weeks or months. Mild to severe nerve pain caused by shingles can last for months or even years.
Vaccination for Hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis A and B are highly contagious liver infections that can cause life-threatening side effects. Because hepatitis viruses are spread through social contact, the vaccine is often chosen as one of the “must have” vaccines for seniors with an active lifestyle or who reside in an assisted living community, such as Grand Oaks of Jensen Beach.
Tetanus Shot. Older adults who have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years or who may come in contact with newborns or infants may want to consider receiving the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough) vaccine. The vaccine helps prevent the spread of a potentially life-threatening bacterial infections of the respiratory tract and mucous membranes.
For National Immunization Awareness Month, seniors may want to consider receiving vaccines for highly contagious, virus-born and bacterial illnesses. For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam.html
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