One of the best ways to keep yourself healthy — besides eating well and getting exercise — is to ensure you're up to date on your vaccinations. COVID-19 has shown us how vital a vaccine can be in preventing illness. Immunizations can protect you and those around you from certain diseases so you can continue enjoying life at its fullest.
As we age, it can be harder for our immune systems to fight infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends older adults get specific vaccines as a matter of routine and additional vaccines depending on personal health conditions. If you're unsure whether you've had or need a specific vaccine, speak with your doctor.
Here's a quick overview of the CDC's recommended immunization schedule for older adults.
The flu can cause fever, chills and fatigue in people of all ages, but those over 65 are at higher risk of complications that can lead to hospitalization.
Seniors in our Bethesda Gardens community can protect themselves by getting a flu vaccine, ideally before the end of October each year. Flu shots are usually available starting late summer and early fall. You can get the vaccine at any time during flu season, but the earlier the better, as it can take two weeks for immunity to develop.
Flu shots are given annually as the vaccine's composition is updated based on the viruses that are circulating.
The CDC also recommends that adults over the age of 65 receive a pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against infections caused by up to 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. This vaccine is typically given once and can help prevent pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections.
There are two different pneumococcal vaccines.
• PPSV23 is recommended for adults over 65 in good health. If you received this vaccine before you turned 65 because of a health condition, you may need to get a booster after five years.
• PCV13 is recommended for adults with certain conditions such as chronic heart, lung, kidney or liver disease, which can cause weakened immune systems. This vaccine isn't routinely recommended for older adults.
Your doctor can help determine which pneumococcal vaccine is best for you.
Shingles can occur when you have a dormant chickenpox virus (varicella zoster) that's reactivated. It causes a painful, blister-like rash that may clear up within a month but may result in long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) as a complication.
Adults over the age of 50 might want to get two doses of the shingles vaccine, two to six months apart. According to the CDC, the Shingrix vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles and PHN. Even four years after it has been given, it remains more than 85% effective in protecting you.
The CDC recommends you get the Shingrix vaccine even if you:
• Previously had the Zostavax shingles vaccine, which is no longer available
• Previously had shingles
• Don't think you've had chickenpox
Also known as whooping cough, pertussis is a serious illness in babies. This vaccine is especially important if you're spending time with a young grandchild.
The vaccines for all three illnesses — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis — are combined into one, known as the Tdap. It may be given at any time, with a follow-up booster every ten years to ensure its effectiveness.
Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic liver disease and end-stage renal disease can weaken your immune system and make it harder to fight infection. To provide you with additional protection, your doctor may recommend other vaccines if you have an existing health condition. These vaccines may include:
• Hepatitis A
• Hepatitis B
• Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
There may also be vaccines your doctor may advise against getting, or suggest you delay getting, if you have certain conditions. Be sure to discuss your personal health needs with your physician.
Once you've reviewed your immunization needs with your primary care doctor, you can arrange for the appropriate vaccines. You may be able to get the vaccine you need directly from a physician or a pharmacy located near our Arlington assisted living community. Community health clinics and public health departments also offer vaccines or can refer you to a provider.
Some vaccines are covered through Medicare Part B, including:
• Seasonal flu
• Hepatitis B
Your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan may also cover some vaccines such as:
• Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap)
The cost of your vaccine depends on how you receive your coverage, whether your doctor accepts the coverage, and your plan's out-of-pocket costs.