NIAM logo_250Vaccines have been in the news a lot lately, especially in California, with the recent passing of Senate Bill 277 that removed the parental personal belief exemption to vaccinations for school-going children. The medical community doesn’t just support vaccination for babies, children and teenagers, but for seniors as well. Caregivers, home care companions and seniors may not realize that some of the vaccines they received as children require boosters, and some diseases that were inescapable when they were younger now have vaccines. Creating and protecting immunity to dangerous illnesses is just as important in old age as it is in infancy, and the National Public Health Information Coalition created National Immunization Awareness Month to champion that idea.

Most of us are vaccinated as children, for whatever the doctor told Mom and Dad we should be vaccinated against. Babies are typically vaccinated against 14 diseases by the age of two, with further shots through the age of six. As pre-teens and teens, we should get vaccinated for meningitis, tetanus, and pertussis, and we’ve all been encouraged to get the flu vaccine as adults, with varying levels of success. Anyone who’s traveled overseas knows that each region of the world requires different vaccines for diseases we’ve eradicated here. Planning a trip to Central Africa, for example, includes getting shots for Hepatitis A, rabies, meningitis, yellow fever, typhoid and polio, depending on where you plan to go, and what you plan to do. The CDC maintains a web page just for travelers to learn what diseases are common in which countries.

The immune system weakens over time, no matter how good your overall health is, or how well you take care of yourself. After age 65, some of the vaccines you received as a child or young adult need a booster to strengthen your immunity, some vaccines are new since you were a child, and some diseases are a greater risk to you as a senior. Here is a list from the CDC of the recommended vaccines for the 60-plus crowd:

  1. Shingles vaccine: shingles are a very painful skin condition that anyone who has had chicken pox is susceptible to contracting. The vaccine reduces the risk of contracting shingles by 51%, and the likelihood of bad side effects by 69%. Read Shingles 101 from August 2014.
  2. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine: pneumococcal disease is the main type of bacterial infection that causes pneumonia in adults. Over a million adults and children are hospitalized with pneumonia every year, and more than 50,000 people die from it.
  3. Tdap booster: Don’t wait until you step on a rusty nail to get your tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) booster. Diphtheria and pertussis typically aren’t adult diseases, and the booster is usually recommended for those who are around infants are children. However, the California Department of Public Health officially declared a whooping cough epidemic in 2010, and the overwhelming majority of victims were infants under four months. Recommended every 10 years.
  4. High risk preventative vaccines: some people may have medical conditions that put them at a high risk for other serious conditions. Vaccines are also available and recommended for:
    1. Hepatitis A
    2. Hepatitis B
    3. Meningitis
    4. Measles, Mumps, Rubella – you may need a booster

There are a lot of opinions out there about vaccines, but there’s also a lot of information. The best way to decide if boosters or new vaccines are right for you is consult trusted sources, especially and including your doctor. Caregivers and loved ones who wonder about vaccines may have a chance to talk about the vaccine success story in their living memory: polio. Before Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine, as many as 20,000 cases of polio a year were reported in the U.S., and terrified parents and children lived through ‘polio season’ each summer. Seniors today now have many options to live as healthy a life as possible, and staying up to date on immunizations is one of the best ways to do that.