Older adults typically have weaker immune systems than the younger population due to the natural effects of aging. This makes illnesses like influenza and COVID-19 inherently more dangerous for seniors. Fortunately, numerous vaccines are available to help prevent getting sick or developing severe complications.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), an annual observance that highlights the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. Take a look at the types of vaccines for seniors that can help this at-risk age group stay healthy and safe.
Flu Shot for Seniors
The influenza vaccine gets more attention each year than any other type of vaccine. While there is some debate about its importance and effectiveness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge everyone to get a flu shot once a year, preferably in the fall at the start of flu season.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to the effects of influenza, making flu shots critical for preserving health and wellness among this age group. In fact, the CDC estimates that at least 50 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur among people age 65 and older. Then, 70 to 85 percent of flu-related deaths happen within this age group.
Here are the types of flu shots available for seniors:
- High-dose flu vaccines have four times the antigens as a regular flu shot. Clinical trials reveal that older adults who receive the high-dose shot are less likely to get sick than those who receive a standard dose.
- Adjuvanted flu vaccines have an additive known as MF59 adjuvant that helps stimulate a stronger immune response in individuals with weaker immune systems, such as older adults. This vaccine first became available in the 2016-2017 flu season.
- Recombinant flu vaccines are intended to provide better immunity among older adults than regular flu shots.
Pneumonia Shot for Seniors
Complications from pneumococcal disease—such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections—claim the lives of about 18,000 seniors each year. That’s why the CDC highly recommends the pneumonia vaccine for seniors age 65 and older.
Two types of pneumococcal vaccinations are used in the US—pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV13, PCV15, or PCV20) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). Individuals who have never had a pneumonia shot should get a dose of PCV13 first, followed by PPSV23 six to 12 months later. Those who have already had a PPSV23 shot can get vaccinated with PCV13 after waiting at least a year.
Shingles Shot for Seniors
Shingles is a viral infection caused by the zoster virus. Anyone can develop shingles, but your risk is higher if you have had chickenpox.
The painful shingles rash can develop anywhere on your body, but the torso is most commonly affected. The rash itself isn’t dangerous, but it can lead to complications, which tend to be more severe in older adults. These include:
- Toxic shock syndrome
- Brain inflammation
- Hearing problems
- Vision problems
Because of the high risk of complications among seniors, the CDC recommends a two-dose shingles vaccination for everyone 50 years and older.
Tetanus, Diphtheria & Pertussis (Tdap) Vaccine for the Elderly
A vaccination known as the Tdap vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, diseases that can be fatal if not treated promptly.
- Tetanus enters the body through a cut or wound. It causes the muscles to stiffen painfully, making it hard to move, swallow, and breathe.
- Diphtheria spreads from person to person. It causes thick mucus to accumulate in the throat, restricting the airway and making breathing difficult. Heart failure, paralysis, or death may occur.
- Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, spreads from person to person. It causes severe coughing that can lead to rib fractures, difficulty breathing, passing out, vomiting, and loss of bladder control.
The CDC recommends the Tdap vaccine for children age 7 and older (preferably 11 or 12), followed by a booster shot every 10 years. Seniors are more vulnerable to complications from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis and have a higher risk of hospitalization, so keeping up with Tdap booster shots is especially important for this age group.
COVID Shot for Seniors
2020 saw the emergence of a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease known as COVID-19. Older adults and people with underlying health conditions affecting the heart and lungs are more likely to develop serious complications if they contract this illness.
COVID vaccines became available in 2021 after monumental efforts to curb the pandemic as quickly as possible. Every approved age group is advised to get vaccinated, with additional doses recommended for people with compromised immune systems.
While the vaccines are not 100% effective in preventing infection or illness, they can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms and minimize the risk of hospitalization and death. Even if you have already had COVID-19, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated because it’s still unknown whether recovering from the illness protects you from future infection.
Hepatitis B Vaccine for the Elderly
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) can cause lifelong infection, severe liver damage, and death. The hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups and is recommended for adults age 60 and older who are at risk for hepatitis B infection. Risk factors include sexual exposure to another person with hepatitis B, exposure to infected blood, underlying liver disease, and travel to countries where hepatitis B is common. Older adults who do not exhibit these risk factors can still request a hepatitis B vaccine.
Learn More About Immunization Health for Seniors
If you’re a caretaker for an older adult seeking more information about immunization health, BrightStar Care offers several valuable resources you might enjoy:
- 3 Ways to Protect Seniors from the Flu
- Caring for an Aging Loved One with the Flu
- Caring for a Loved One with Pneumonia
- Learn the Signs & Risks of Elderly Pneumonia
- What You Should Know About Shingles in the Elderly