As we age, our bodies are less able to protect themselves against common diseases, such as the flu or shingles. As part of National Immunization Awareness Month (and as we close in on flu season), our health care experts researched what immunizations seniors should get, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ultimately, it is up to you if you decide to get a vaccination. Your primary care doctor is the best person to contact in regards to what immunizations you may need and this article should simply act as a reference point.
Recommended vaccines for seniors
Almost 1 out of every 3 Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is caused when the same virus from chickenpox reactivates later in life. Some shingles can clear up on their own, but some people with shingles experience mild to severe nerve pain that can last much longer. This vaccine helps prevent against shingles in older adults.
Nearly 60% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years and older. Seniors are highly encouraged to get the flu (influenza) vaccine once a year. There are specific flu shots, like Fluzone, designed for seniors that provide greater protection against the flu.
Should you decide to get a flu shot, many doctors recommend administration in early fall before flu season begins in October.
Older adults are more likely to develop complications from pneumococcal bacteria, such as infections in the lungs and bloodstream, pneumonia, and meningitis. There are two vaccines that protect against pneumococcal disease: PCV13 and PPSV23. The CDC recommends that that seniors 65+ get both shots, a year apart, starting with PCV13.
Additional vaccines seniors may need
If you travel a lot for work or have international travel plans during retirement, you may want to get further immunizations as well. For example, there is an ongoing outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil and the CDC recommends that all travelers have immunizations at least 10 days before traveling to this region.
Also, if you have a long-term health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, there are further immunizations that a doctor may recommend. Again, your doctor will be your best partner in this case.
It can seem complicated to figure out what immunizations you should get. Here is a helpful vaccine assessment tool provided by the CDC that helps adults ages 19 and older figure out their recommended immunizations.
Common questions regarding immunizations for seniors
Why do I need more vaccines if I already got them as a child?
Vaccines eventually wear off over time and new vaccines may be available that you did not receive as a child. Plus, some vaccines (like the shingles vaccine) are recommended only for adults.
You may also be a good candidate for other vaccines based on your job, travel plans, or specific health conditions.
What is the difference between vaccines, vaccinations, and immunization?
A vaccine is the drug itself, which is made up of small amounts of dead germs that prepare your body to fight the disease. A vaccination is the process of getting a vaccine (typically a shot). And immunization is the process of becoming immune to the disease, which not all vaccines promise.
Immunization and getting vaccinated are often used interchangeably.
Does Medicare cover immunizations?
If you have a Part D plan, most of your vaccines or immunizations will be covered. Part B covers the following vaccinations:
- Influenza shot
- Pneumococcal shot
- Hepatitis B shot
If you have been exposed to a disease or virus, such as stepping on a rusty nail and are vulnerable to tetanus, Part B will cover those vaccines as well.
It is fully up to you to decide if you want to get these recommended vaccinations. Please speak with your primary care provider regarding your options and what he or she recommends based on your specific health situation.