An older man getting a vaccination from a young female nurse.

Did You Get Your Vaccinations?

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An older man getting a vaccination from a young female nurse.Anyone who travels regularly to other countries already knows that shot records are important. Health care professionals are also required to keep their shots current. But who else in the adult world needs to keep their vaccinations up-to-date? Those over 55.

What? I thought immunizations were for kids!

There are two vulnerable age groups who need to be protected against the harmful microbes that inhabit our world: those who have yet to develop immunity (under 10 years old) and those who’s immunity is wearing out (those over 55 with decreased resistance or increased ill-health). While the under 10 group have mothers to check on them, the over 55 group rely on health care providers to keep them up-to-date and informed.

So what immunizations do older people need to consider?

  1. Influenza. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get the flu vaccine this year. It contains the H1N1 strain along with the other strains, so there’s no reason to get two shots this time. Those who have chronic illness and those who are traveling abroad (it is an international disease) should be vaccinated early.
  2. Tetanus. Tetanus microbes are in the soil and on every object everywhere. People are exposed to it constantly. So why the immunization? Excessive exposure in a cut or wound can overwhelm a weak immune system. The vaccine needs to be updated every 10 years. This immunization is usually given with diphtheria and pertussis vaccines. Anyone under 65 who is exposed to infants under one year should have their pertussis (whooping cough) updated as well.
  3. Pneumococcal pneumonia. In this day of antibiotics, people don’t expect pneumonia to be fatal. The fact is: pneumonia is the nation’s leading cause of vaccine-preventable illness and death. The pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria is especially virulent in those over 65, those with long-standing health problems, transplant patients, and those without a spleen. They all should receive the PPSV vaccine one time and have it repeated once after age 65.
  4. Chicken pox. There is a long standing maxim in medicine that says that children’s diseases are mild in children and devastating in adults. Chicken pox is one of those diseases that can have severe side effects to older adults. Health care workers, military personnel and international travelers especially need this immunization unless a blood test can confirm that they have had the disease and already have immunity.
  5. Shingles. It’s chicken pox again, but among who have already had the disease. Herpes zoster is a recurrence or flare-up of the chicken pox virus in the nerves of those who it years ago. While the skin rash and initial pain can clear up in 3-6 weeks, 60% of those with shingles develop severe chronic pain that may last for months or years. This vaccine is about 50-60% effective and does not totally prevent shingles. But the devastation of post-herpetic neuralgia (nerve pain) is so severe that a one-time shot seems like a good idea.

Other vaccines that should be considered in those over 55 include: measles/mumps/rubella, meningitis, polio, and hepatitis. For more information on whether you or any older person whom you care for should be receiving any of these immunizations, check with your doctor or check out the now familiar websites of WebMD or the CDC.

Author

Max Wayne Hammonds was born Aug 3, 1943, in northeastern Indiana, in the county hospital in Wabash. He attended high school and college in his home town of North Manchester and attended Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. Following an internship in South Bend, IN and a year of flight medicine in the Air Force, he took a residency in anesthesiology at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.