As we age, it's more important than ever to be vaccinated against infections like the flu, tetanus, whooping cough, and more.
A bad flu or case of pneumonia can be dangerous for anyone, but because the body's immune system weakens with age, people over the age of 65 are more likely to be infected by a virus or bacterium than their younger counterparts.
Plus, as we get older, we also run the risk of developing diseases like diabetes and kidney problems—which, in turn, leaves us even more susceptible to infections and complications, says Kenneth Schmader, a professor of medicine at Duke University and the American Geriatrics Society liaison to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Here are four vaccines that seniors should consider getting—talk to your doctor about the timing and which form of the immunization is right for you.
The flu is harder on seniors than any other group of people in the United States, according to the CDC. Although they make up just 15% of the population, they accounted for about 50% of influenza-related hospitalizations and more than 60% of the pneumonia- and influenza-related deaths during the 2015 and 2016 season.
Roll up your sleeves before the end of October, which is when influenza season starts to pick up, says the CDC. Reminder: It takes your body about two weeks to develop the antibodies needed to fight off the flu. You can get a flu shot in your doctor's office, health clinic, or pharmacy; you can also use to find a nearby location.
If you thought chickenpox was in your past, you might want to think again: The varicella zoster virus (which was responsible for your outbreak all those years ago) can lie dormant in the body for decades until reactivating in the form of shingles, a painful rash of blisters on one side of the face and body that can take 2 to 4 weeks to subside.
The CDC estimates that nearly 1 in 3 people will develop shingles sometime in their lifetime—and what's more, your risk of developing the infection increases with age. The organization now tells adults age 50 and up to be vaccinated with two doses of Shingrix, which gained approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2017. (In the past, the only vaccine available was Zostavax, which was given to people starting at the age of 60.)
Pneumococcus, or Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, can cause pneumonia, sinus infections, meningitis, and more. The CDC tells adults age 65 and over to be vaccinated with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23); PCV13 is usually given first, while PPSV23 is usually given a year later, says Dr. Schmader.
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TD Booster Shot
The TD booster shot, which protects against tetanus (lockjaw) and diphtheria (a bacterial infection that can cause difficulty breathing), is usually given once every 10 years, but you can also get it earlier if you've suffered a particularly nasty cut or burn.
Can't recall the last time you had a TD booster shot (or any other vaccination)? You aren't alone: When you move to a different city or change insurance policies, you may also have changed doctors—which can make it hard to keep tabs on which vaccines you've received and which vaccines you need. If you can't get in touch with your former provider, Dr. Schmader recommends ing your state health department, which keeps some records of adult vaccinations.