Adult Vaccinations

4 Booster Shots That Aren’t Just for Kids

Adult Vaccinations

Vaccines are all over the news lately, as the Disneyland measles outbreak and debates on mandatory shots make headlines. With such focus on kids and vaccines, it’s easy to forget that seniors need immunizations, too — for their own health and for their grandkids’ wellbeing. Here are some of the vaccines you should talk about with your doctor at any age, and especially once you reach the golden years.

Reducing influenza risks

A flu vaccine could save you a week or more of misery and can even save your life, particularly if you’re over 65. That’s because aging changes the immune system in ways that make us more susceptible to serious flu complications, according to Kathleen A. Cameron, MPH, National Council on Aging senior director.

“People 65 years of age and older account for 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations and 90 percent of flu-related deaths,” Cameron said. (In 2010, the CDC recorded more than 53,000 flu deaths in the US.) “It is important for this age group to speak with their health care providers about the risk for flu-related complications and to understand their vaccine options.”

Those options may include traditional shots or specially formulated high-dose inoculations for seniors. Because the flu virus mutates so quickly, doctors recommend getting a flu shot every year.

Preventing pneumonia and more

Most people think the pneumococcal vaccine just prevents pneumonia, but it also fights other nasty conditions caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, including meningitis and serious blood infections. Even if you think you’re not at risk, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure: The CDC says some strains of the disease are now antibiotic resistant and difficult to treat.

Protecting babies and adults from pertussis

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a “childhood disease” that’s often passed from adults to children, especially those too young to be fully vaccinated. That’s because the vaccine’s protection lasts a decade or less, which means parents and grandparents who haven’t had boosters can unwittingly spread the virus to their babies and grandbabies — resulting in severe coughs, breathing trouble, and potentially fatal complications. Pertussis is hard on adults, too, who can suffer for up to ten weeks with coughing fits severe enough to crack ribs.

The March of Dimes and pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur’s Sounds of Pertussis program helps parents and grandparents learn more about whooping cough prevention. “Researchers found that when it could be determined how an infant caught pertussis, family members – including grandparents – were responsible for spreading the disease to the baby in up to 80 percent of cases,” said Dr. Siobhan Dolan, March of Dimes medical advisor. “Adults should be vaccinated with the adult Tdap booster not only to help protect themselves but to help stop the spread of the disease to infants.”

Taking steps to prevent tetanus

A bonus of the Tdap vaccine is that it renews tetanus protection as well — a good thing for those of us who tend to get cuts and scrapes from household projects and yard work. Health experts recommend that adults get a tetanus booster every ten years, with additional boosters after some injuries or animal bites.

As with any medical issue, your health status and medical history determine which vaccines you should get. Talk it over with your doctor to see what he or she recommends for keeping you and the people around you healthy.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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