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Understanding Vaccinations for Adults 50+

  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Donna Nordstrom, RN, BSN, MS

Printed in the August 20, 2020 issue of the Worcester County Times

August is National Immunization Month. This time of year we often hear about childhood vaccines and immunization requirements for school. National Immunization Awareness Month is a great time to remind the community that vaccines are important for all ages. Vaccines are important not only for children and teens but adults too.

Immunizations help prevent serious illnesses and sometimes deadly diseases. Vaccines stimulate a person’s own immune system to produce antibodies. The production of antibodies, a body’s natural response to germs, help fight disease. A vaccine causes a person’s immune system to recognize the weakened or non-live version of a disease and develop immunity without having to actually get the disease first. According to the CDC, adults should consider the following vaccines: flu, Tdap, shingles, and pneumonia.

An adult should receive the flu vaccine once a year. According to the CDC, people ages 65 and older account for 60 percent of seasonal flu hospitalizations. In the U.S., the flu kills around 36,000 people each year and older Americans are an at risk population. The spread of the flu varies from year to year. It is difficult to “predict” the next flu season and the severity of flu illnesses. However in the U.S., we do know flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. Since the flu virus constantly changes from year to year, a yearly flu shot is recommended. By receiving the flu vaccine, you can help reduce flu illnesses and prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough) can be given in one vaccination.Tdap is recommended initially if an adult has never received the vaccine and then followed by a tetanus booster every 10 years. Due to a rise in whooping cough cases, also known as pertussis, the Tdap vaccine is crucial for grandparents, parents, and/or child care providers who have close contact with infants.

The shingles vaccination is the only way to protect against shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), the most common complication from shingles. CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine called Shingrix. The shingles vaccine is recommended for those who have a history of chicken pox and/or shingles. Shingles, a painful blistering skin rash is caused by the varicella zoster virus. The shingles outbreak can be worse in an older person. The shingles vaccine helps to prevent future outbreaks.

The pneumococcal vaccine, also known as the pneumonia vaccine, is recommended for everyone 65 years and older, including people 50 years and older with certain risk factors. Risk factors include smoking or serious health problems. Also, even if you are healthy, the vaccine is recommended for those who work around people with chronic illnesses such as in hospitals or nursing homes. Pneumonia is a lung infection and it can be life-threatening, especially in the elderly.

According to the CDC, other vaccines you may need include those that protect against meningococcal disease, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella. Remember, diseases can be serious and even fatal in an older adult. Immunization is one of the safest ways for you to protect your health.

For more information on all vaccines available and recommended for adults 50 years and older, talk with your healthcare provider. Take the CDC’s Adult Vaccine Quiz to learn more about vaccines you may need based on your responses and share your results with your healthcare provider.