By Kimberly Blaker
When it comes to health, prevention is the best medicine.
Many avoidable diseases can cause extensive damage to our health, especially as we age or for those with other medical conditions or a weakened immune system.
While many preventable illnesses are treatable, they can nonetheless result in lasting complications. So getting vaccinated against certain diseases is vital to prevent these illnesses from taking hold in our bodies. We all know vaccinations are standard during childhood, but adults need immunizations, too. However, adults require different protections or may need booster shots to ensure the vaccines they received in the past remain effective.
How do vaccines work?
The goal of vaccines is to reduce your chance of infection by developing immunity through your body’s natural defense system. When bacteria or viruses get into your body, they reproduce and attack your system. Your body’s immune system has various approaches to fight off this infection. For example, white blood cells can learn how to protect your body from particular germs that you’ve been vaccinated against.
The way this works is vaccines use a small amount of the particular virus or bacteria and introduce it into your system. The antibodies then learn how to fight off the germs in the event you encounter them in a larger quantity. For this reason, you may have a slight reaction to the vaccine, such as a fever, while your body works to fight it. Still, this is very minor compared to the complications of getting a preventable disease. There are many types of vaccines, and each can interact with your body differently. Some vaccines require multiple doses or else a booster later on to rebuild your immunity levels.
Some individuals are unable to get certain vaccines or have weakened immune systems that make them more vulnerable to infection. Herd immunity can protect these at-risk populations, including young children, older adults, and individuals with certain health conditions. Herd immunity refers to a large percent of the population being immune to a disease, reducing the risk of the particular bacteria or virus passing from person to person.
What vaccines do older adults need?
The vaccines recommended in adulthood offer yearly protection, are recommended for specific life or health situations or are boosters to keep your childhood vaccinations working effectively.
Every individual has different medical needs, but common adult immunization recommendations include:
• Influenza: The flu shot is recommended yearly for every person over the age of 6 months, especially for those at higher risk due to a weakened immune system, medical conditions, or close contact with those at risk for the flu.
• Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap): The initial Tdap shot is currently given once, usually around the age of 11-12. Boosters are recommended every 10 years after that, especially if you come in contact with pregnant women or young infants.
• Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): If you were born before 1957, you are likely immune from MMR. If you were born after 1957 and don’t have evidence of immunity, this vaccination is recommended, especially if you travel internationally. However, if you have a weakened immune system, it is not recommended.
• Recombinant zoster (RZV): The Zoster vaccine is the currently preferred shot to prevent shingles. It’s especially recommended for those 50 or older since the risk and the likelihood of complications from shingles increases with age. Even if you’ve had shingles, you can get it again, so the vaccine is still recommended.
• Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23): This vaccine is for pneumococcal diseases like meningitis and bloodstream infections. It’s recommended for everyone 65 and older and for younger individuals with certain health conditions.
• Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13): This immunization also works to prevent pneumococcal disease and pneumonia for those with conditions that weaken their immune system.
The CDC offers a vaccine assessment tool to help you determine which vaccines you may need based on your own personal factors such as age or health conditions. The best way to make sure you are up to date on immunizations is to discuss your medical history and needs with your doctor.