A major topic in the news for the past month has been the release of the latest COVID-19 booster vaccine. The CDC recommends that anyone age 12 or older receive this new booster if it has been at least two months since their most recent COVID vaccine. This new vaccine has been reformulated to be more effective against the variants currently circulating. New boosters take roughly two weeks to be fully effective.
In September, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, announced “The updated COVID-19 boosters are formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variant. They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants. This recommendation followed a comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion. If you are eligible, there is no bad time to get your COVID-19 booster and I strongly encourage you to receive it.”
As we age our immune system can weaken creating circumstances that make us more susceptible to illnesses. There are a number of ways to help keep our immune systems safe, one strategy is immunization.
A great deal of the information out there is regarding immunization for infants and children, and it comes with a lot of debate. Immunizations for older adults, however, does not have as much controversy and it helps to prevent some painful and serious illnesses.
Three common vaccines for older adults are Influenza, Shingles, and Pneumococcal. While Medicare (Part B or Part D) will cover most immunizations, it is always a good idea to check your specific Medicare plan to ensure that you understand the coverage available.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can be severe and life-threatening.
The flu shot is not just for frail older adults. Healthy people age 65 and over experience a weakening of the immune system and are more susceptible to getting the flu. If you are managing a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease, battling the flu can be even more dangerous as complications can arise. Flu combined with Pneumonia, which is a common acute condition among the aging population, is one of the top 10 leading causes of death for people aged 65 and over.
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. It is best to get the flu shot annually and as early in the season as possible. You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office, at a clinic, or many of the pharmacies offer them as well.
Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus as chicken pox. Shingles can only be passed on to others prior to scabs forming from the blisters. Pain from shingles can linger long after the rash disappears.
The chicken pox virus lives dormant in the immune system and the weakening of the immune system can awaken the virus. One in three adults contracts shingle at some point in their life, most are 60 years or older. Shingles has serious side effects, like fever, exhaustion and loss of appetite. If you’ve had the chicken pox, or are unsure, you should talk with your doctor about getting vaccinated.
Two vaccines are licensed in the United States. Zoster vaccine live has been used since 2006. Recombinant zoster vaccine has been used since 2017, and is recommended as the preferred shingles vaccine. You should discuss which vaccine is best for you with your doctor.
Pneumococcal disease causes severe infections throughout the bloodstream and/or key organs. The conditions that result from pneumococcal are more commonly known, such as pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia. More than 18,000 people age 65 and over die each year from pneumococcal. Check with your doctor as to if and when you should get this vaccine.
In addition to the flu, pneumococcal, and shingles vaccines, older adults should consider a pertussis (whooping cough) if they are in contact with very young children. And, don’t forget to have your tetanus shot updated at least every ten year. The final and oft repeated recommendation is to discuss vaccines with your doctor.