Empowering Seniors to Advocate for Their Vaccinations

With age comes wisdom. Unfortunately, when it comes to many aspects of healthcare, and specifically proper immunizations, not enough of our elders are wisely speaking up and receiving the regular schedule of vaccines they need. Therefore, it’s up to clinicians and caregivers to encourage our elders to always speak up for what they need to properly safeguard their health.

The urgency of these discussions is compounded by the fact the senior population in the United States is expanding at a very rapid pace. By 2030, 70 million Americans will be over the age of 65, with those 85-plus representing the single fastest growing segment of society, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And with so many seniors living with chronic conditions, we must work to minimize their risk of succumbing to the complications brought on by vaccine-preventable diseases.

So during this time of year when infections are prevalent, let’s make a resolution to discuss with seniors in our lives to see if they’re up-to-date with their vaccinations. If you have a relative or someone you care for who is in his or her 60s or older, the following are the recommended immunizations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Flu (influenza) – Annual – According to the CDC, flu season causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year, with adults over 65 accounting for a vastly disproportionate share of those numbers. Seniors should enquire with their doctor about Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, which has been shown to be 25 percent more effective in preventing the flu for those over 65 based on one study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. 
  • Pneumonia (pneumococcal disease) – The fourth leading cause of death among the elderly, pneumonia often strikes seniors who have weakened immune systems due to the flu or another illness. Unfortunately, approximately 40 percent of seniors remain unprotected and at high risk. One dose each of both the Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 vaccines are recommended for all persons over 65, according to a revised schedule from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
  • Shingles (herpes zostar) – A doctor in Nebraska told the story recently of an older patient who had ignored his advice to get the shingles vaccine. Once the patient contracted the very painful condition, which causes rashes on the face and body, his wife and brother, both in their 60s, then hurried into the doctor’s office asking for the vaccine. The moral: don’t wait to see the suffering firsthand. Currently, only about 30 percent of seniors have been immunized against the shingles virus. According to the CDC, a single dose of the shingles vaccine is recommended for anyone over age of 60.
  • Td/Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) – For those under 65 a Tdap shot with the pertussis component is recommended to replace your previous series. For those over 65, it is recommended by the CDC to receive the Td booster without the pertussis component every 10 years.

It’s estimated by John Muir Health that 45,000 adults die annually from diseases that are preventable by today’s vaccines. The key to lowering this number among seniors is knowledge. That starts with a discussion and ends with empowering seniors to speak up for themselves to receive the schedule of immunizations and quality of care that they need and deserve