With all the media coverage about the imminent availability of various COVID vaccines, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of other Vaccinations for Older People.
Many adults feel that they do not need vaccinations, or worry about side effects from the vaccine itself, but people age 65 and older are at higher risk of complications from the actual diseases. Therefore, it is important for older adults to keep vaccines current: they may not have been vaccinated as a child, new vaccinations may now be available, immunity may have faded, and most importantly, older people are more susceptible to serious and possibly life-threatening infections.
The most important vaccinations for Older People that should be discuss with your Doctor include the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia, shingles vaccine, and a tetanus-diptheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
Experts recommend an annual flu vaccination for most adults, including Older People, and any patient with underlying high-risk conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Getting an annual flu vaccine is necessary since immunity is short-lived and vaccine manufacturers update it every year to make sure it is as effective as possible against the current virus. You should speak to your doctor before getting the flu shot if you are allergic to eggs, latex, have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine previously. Patients with fevers should wait to be vaccinated until the illness subsides.
The Asthma Society of Ireland estimates that more than 500,000 aged 65 or older may be at risk getting pneumococcal disease, or pneumo, each winter. Pneumo is a bacteria which can cause serious illness including meningitis, pneumonia and septicaemia. Of those who get infected with pneumo, 1 in 4 will develop meningitis, 1 in 4 will develop pneumonia and 1 in 10 will die. Currently, 84 per cent of over 65s are not protected against pneumo.
The introduction of a nationwide vaccination programme for pneumo in Ireland almost a decade ago, has resulted in a 90% fall in cases.
The zoster vaccine will protect you against shingles, it is the same virus as chickenpox. Shingles can be very painful and the older you are, the worse it can be. Although most people fully recover from shingles, some can be left with long-term nerve pain that continues for months or even years after the blisters and rash have healed – this is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).
The older you are, the higher the chance of developing PHN as a result of shingles. The vaccine not only helps reduce your risk of developing shingles, but can lessen the severity and duration of any symptoms if you do, as well as cutting your risk of developing PHN.
You may need a booster Tdap vaccine, you should ask your Doctor about this. More and more Older People are getting pertussis, or whooping cough, possibly due to fading immunity. If you are 65 years or older, get the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine without the pertussis component.
Discussing which vaccinations are right for you with your doctor, and making sure to have the needed vaccines on schedule, will help you prevent disease and maintain a healthy active lifestyle.
If you have any other questions about immunisation you can contact the HSE’s National Immunisation Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by post: HSE National Immunisation Office, Units 8-9 Manor Street Business Park, Manor Street, Dublin 7