The topic of vaccination often evokes childhood memories of anxious trips to the doctor for shots. Most adults believe that their inoculation days are over, but keeping up with recommended vaccine schedules throughout our lives is just as imperative as receiving those initial doses as children.
As we age, our immune systems begin to function less efficiently. Healing and immune responses slow significantly, thereby increasing seniors’ susceptibility to disease. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep and a positive mental state can all help keep an individual’s immune system in top condition, but a healthy lifestyle is not the only way to avoid getting sick. Simple preventive measures like vaccines can have a huge impact on a senior’s quality of life and longevity, as well as that of their caregiver. Prevention also costs significantly less than treating the illness itself, which can include doctor’s visits, medications, testing and even hospitalization or nursing home placement.
Recommended Vaccines for the Elderly
Important vaccinations for seniors include shingles (herpes zoster), annual flu (influenza), and pneumonia (pneumococcal) shots. Each of these has specific guidelines and recommendations for who should receive them and when, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older individuals receive these three in particular, since they are at increased risk of contracting these diseases.
Medical, Financial and Social Benefits of Vaccination
Each person who follows through with all recommended vaccines not only benefits personally, but also contributes to the herd immunity of those around them. Although vaccines are not 100 percent effective for everyone, this widespread compliance reduces the risk of exposure and infection for those who are unable to be vaccinated.
Inoculations can protect against a specific disease as well as related medical complications. For example, a senior who contracts the flu can easily develop full-blown pneumonia. According to the CDC, influenza and pneumonia weigh in as the eighth leading cause of death for individuals 65 and older. Furthermore, a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that use of the flu vaccine was associated with a lower risk of major adverse cardiovascular events in the year following vaccination. This is a significant connection because approximately 85.6 million adults in the U.S. have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and about two-thirds of CVD deaths occur in people ages 75 and older.
Family Members and Health Care Workers Need Vaccines, Too
Seniors aren’t the only ones who need to be vaccinated. Family caregivers should certainly stay up to date on their vaccines, including an annual flu shot or nasal spray. The same applies for other members of your household. This will help keep everyone healthier and significantly reduce the likelihood that an aging loved one will be exposed to and contract a potentially life-threatening illness. Not to mention, most family caregivers can’t afford to fall ill since they are directly responsible for someone else’s day-to-day care.
It is crucial for health care workers and professional caregivers to stay up to date with their immunizations as well. The CDC strongly recommends that long-term care workers receive annual flu vaccines to prevent the transmission of preventable diseases from patient to patient. This is especially important in institutional environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult day care centers.
Vaccine Types and Insurance Coverage
Compared to younger members of society, there are some differences in the vaccination schedule, dosing and coverage for older individuals. Since seniors’ immune function tends to be reduced, doctors might recommend follow-up doses and/or high-dose varieties. Be sure to consult with a doctor about the best options for dosing and administration for yourself and your loved ones.
When it comes to paying for vaccines, most health insurance plans cover the cost of these preventive measures. Medicare Part B beneficiaries can receive partial or full coverage for influenza, pneumococcal and hepatitis B vaccinations. Part B also covers additional vaccines that are required following a senior’s exposure to a disease (like tetanus). Medicare prescription drug plans (Part D) and advantage plans, which have built-in drug coverage, cover all other commercially available vaccines (like the shingles shot). Check the specifics of your health insurance policy to ensure you receive necessary vaccinations at the lowest possible cost.
Safeguard Yourself and Others
Immunization is a powerful tool that helps protect the most vulnerable members of society. Limiting the impact of vaccine-preventable diseases on older generations can prevent illness, reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and even delay placement in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. This simple collaborative effort can have widespread health benefits for you, your loved ones and society as a whole.