Immunizations provide protection from many infectious illnesses by training the immune system to recognize and fight off viruses or bacteria before the real infection comes along. After being vaccinated against a specific illness, the immune system will more aggressively and effectively attack and fight against the virus or bacteria before it can spread or cause illness.
It is important to understand that vaccinations are not just for infants and children. Each age group has a recommended immunization schedule that is specific to their needs. Vaccinations that you received as a child also can wear off over time, requiring revaccination or a booster shot to boost your immune system’s “memory.”
As you age, your immune system weakens and your risk for many vaccine-preventable diseases increases. Therefore, it is important that you continue to receive vaccinations throughout your entire life and follow your recommended vaccination schedule.
After turning 50, the recommended vaccination schedule is:
- One seasonal flu (influenza) dose annually.
- One Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster every 10 years.
- Two shingles doses, two to six months apart.
After turning 60, it is also recommended that you receive the following (your doctor may recommend these vaccinations before 60 if you have certain health conditions that increase your risk for infections or impact your immune system):
- One dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), which protects against serious pneumococcal disease, including meningitis and bloodstream infections.
- One dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), which protects against serious pneumococcal disease and pneumonia.
At every age, an annual flu vaccination is especially important because you are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu as you age. In fact, there is a different type of high-dose flu vaccine specifically designed for people ages 65 and older. The vaccine contains four times the antigens of a regular flu shot, which helps your immune system produce more antibodies and provide extra protection against the flu. If you don’t get vaccinated and get the flu, it is possible to have complications from the flu.
Complications from the flu can include:
- Sinus or ear infection
- Bronchitis, an inflammation in the lining of the bronchial tubes, the tubes that carry air to the lungs
Like the flu vaccine, both pneumococcal vaccine boosters are especially important for older adults to receive because of their increasing susceptibility to pneumococcal disease due to a weakened immune system. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause many types of illnesses that range from mild to very severe. With a weakened immune system, the bacteria can spread into the body and lead to severe health problems such as pneumonia (an infection of the lungs), bacteremia (bacteria in the blood stream) and meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cold membranes).
Another vaccination that seniors should receive is the shingles vaccination. This vaccination is unique because it is only approved and recommended for adults that are over 50. This is because your risk of shingles and related complications increase as you get older. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox can develop shingles, and most older adults in the United States had chickenpox as a child, before the routine chickenpox vaccination was developed.
Complications from shingles can include:
- Postherpetic neuralgia (pain, itching, burning or tingling for months after the shingles rash has healed)
- Eye issues, especially if you have shingles in or near your eyes, forehead or nose
- Ramsay Hunt Syndrome (shingles on or around your ears), which can cause earaches, hearing loss, ear ringing, dizziness and other balance issues
- Skin problems, such as blisters, bacterial infections or scars
- In very rare cases, shingles can cause swelling in your lungs, brain or liver
Vaccinating against these illnesses is the best way to prevent getting sick from these infections and is an integral part of helping you live a long and healthy life. Remember that your protection against these infections also protects those in your family and community. If you or your family member has a certain health condition, your doctor may advise against receiving a specific vaccination, so be sure talk to your doctor to find out which vaccinations are recommended for you.
You can schedule a vaccine appointment at the Vaccine Hub at Long Beach Medical Center by calling (562) 933-0298.