Senior Vaccinations: The long and short of it for 65 and over
Vaccines have been front-of-mind of late with covid-19 variants and booster shots raising questions. The conversation around vaccines is a good one to have, across all the recommended immunizations, especially for people 65 and over. Here’s an overview of the ones to sign up for, what to consider for special circumstances, and links to government resources for more information.
5 for 65 and over: There are five core vaccinations for people 65 and over and they are the flu vaccine (influenza), the pneumonia vaccine, the shingles vaccine, the Tdap or Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine, and the Covid-19 vaccine.
Influenza (flu) vaccine: People 65 and over are more susceptible to serious complications caused by the flu. Immune systems change as we age, and our defenses are not as strong, leaving individuals in this age bracket more likely to experience serious health complications, hospitalizations, or even death because of the flu. The CDC recommends everyone over 6 months of age, but especially seniors, receive a flu shot each year. Here’s what to know:
- It is preferable to get the vaccine in September or October but even through December or January will help protect someone when the flu is still circulating.
- Our immunity becomes reduced over time and the flu virus changes each year so annual vaccination is required. Nasal Spray vaccines are not recommended for this age group
- There are two flu vaccines designed specifically for the 65 and over age group:
- The High Dose Flu Vaccine and the Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine. The high dose, brand name Fluzone High-Dose contains four times the antigen (the inactivated virus that promotes the immune response within our bodies). The higher ratio of antigens increases the body’s production of antibodies to protect against the virus should it encounter it. Studies show that it boosts immunity for individuals 65 and over by about 24% compared to the regular flu vaccine.
- The adjuvanted flu vaccine, brand name Fluad Quadrivalent, is made with an additive, MF59 adjuvant, that helps our bodies create a stronger immune response.
Pneumonia vaccine: This vaccine is given to protect against pneumococcal diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections. The US office of Health and Human Services recommends that your health care provider guide you to what is right for you.
- Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious complication related to the flu https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm that can cause death.
- Vaccines for pneumococcal diseases can be administered at the same time as your flu vaccine.
Shingles vaccine: You may have gotten a shingles vaccine shortly after turning 50. If you haven’t yet, then add this one to your list.
- The CDC recommends two doses of the shingles vaccine, brand name Shingrix spaced two (2) to six (6) months apart.
- The shingles vaccine is the only way to protect against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) the common complication caused by shingles.
- Do not get the Shingrix vaccine if you currently have shingles, the CDC recommends that you wait until the rash has completely disappeared before receiving the vaccine.
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine: This combination vaccine protects against diphtheria and pertussis which spread from person to person, and tetanus which enters the body through cuts or wounds.
- The recommended dose is one dose then a booster dose every 10 years.
- If a severe or dirty wound or burn is involved, and it’s been longer than five (5) years of receiving the vaccine, a booster shot should be given.
- Talk with your healthcare provider if the recipient of the vaccine has seizures or another nervous system problem or has ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (also called “GBS”)
- Talk with your healthcare provider if the recipient of the vaccine has ever had allergic reactions, severe or life-threatening allergies, or other complications from previous vaccinations.
COVID-19 vaccine: If you are still unvaccinated and you need a compelling reason to get your COVID 19 vaccine – here it is: “Adults 65 years old and older who were fully vaccinated with an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) had a 94% reduction in risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations and vaccination was 64% effective among those who were partially vaccinated (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna)” according to the CDC.
- As with the flu, older, unvaccinated adults, because of less effective immune systems, are more likely to be hospitalized or die if they contract COVID-19.
- COVID-19 vaccines are available at no cost.
- CDC does not require U.S. citizenship for individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Are these Vaccines Covered by Medicare?
According to the office of The U.S. Health And Human Services:
“Medicare Part B covers vaccines that protect against the flu and pneumococcal disease — and the hepatitis B vaccine if you’re at increased risk for hepatitis B. It also covers vaccines that you might need after an injury (like the tetanus vaccine) or coming into contact with a disease (like the rabies vaccine).
Medicare Part D plans generally cover more vaccines than Part B. But depending on your Medicare Part D plan, you may have out-of-pocket costs for these vaccines. Contact Medicare to find out what’s covered.”
For more information on vaccinations:
- Consult your health care provider.
- Connect with local or state health departments.
- For vaccine package inserts and information visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Access the CDC 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or the CDC’s vaccines website.