Immunizations Aren't Just for Kids

During August, National Immunization Awareness Month reminds us to get the vaccines that help keep us healthy.

August is a great month to circulate this reminder, because flu season will be here before we know it. It’s almost time to be immunized against seasonal influenza.

Some people wonder why they need to get an annual flu shot—can’t the protection last from year to year? The answer is no. The flu viruses that spread around the world are different each year, and the vaccine we get to help our immune system create protective antibodies needs to target the current flu season’s germs. So get your 2016-2017 flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available.

Don't Wait, Vaccinate

Special concerns if you’re 65 or older

The flu can be a serious illness for older adults. Up to 90 percent of people who die from the effects of the flu are over the age of 65. And seniors are more likely to come down with the flu, because our immune system weakens as we grow older. So getting the flu vaccine is especially important in our later years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there are several things seniors should know about the flu vaccine:

  • Your health care provider may suggest that you receive a new, higher-dose flu vaccine that’s designed for people older than 65. Some studies have shown that this version of the vaccine is 24 percent more effective for seniors.
  • The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for older adults.
  • When seniors get the flu, their doctor may recommend that they receive antiviral drugs to cut the risk of serious complications. The earlier a senior starts taking these drugs, the more effective they are. So seniors and caregivers should be alert for the signs of flu: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

Are your other vaccines up to date?

When you’re talking to your doctor about the flu shot, this is a great time to review the other immunizations that are recommended for older adults. Fortunately, the flu vaccine is the only one that we need to receive each year. But we should keep up to date on other vaccines, which include:

  • Shingles (herpes zoster)
  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Pertussis
  • Pneumococcal disease (pneumonia)

Other vaccines might also be recommended; take an interactive quiz from the CDC to learn more, and talk to your doctor about the vaccines that are right for you. Getting these vaccines not only protects seniors against dangerous complications, but also protects babies they may come in contact with who are too young to receive these vaccines, and other people with weakened immune systems.

Creating and keeping an adult vaccine record

Has this happened to you? You go to a new doctor, who asks you, “When did you get your last tetanus shot?” If you’re like most of us—especially if that shot was several years earlier—you might draw a blank and not remember.

Your mom likely kept an immunization record for you when you were little, but now it’s time to do it yourself. You might need this information for travel abroad, for a job or volunteer service. Your doctor’s office keeps track of immunizations you receive there, but people today change healthcare providers more often, or they might get a shot from their pharmacist or at a health fair. So the CDC says to keep an up-to-date immunization record, store it with other important documents, and bring it to health appointments.

If you haven’t been keeping an immunization record, you may need to do a little sleuthing to create one. You might be able to find records through your doctor, your parents or records they keep, even in your baby book. If you can’t find your records and you aren’t sure whether you’ve received certain recommended vaccines, your doctor may recommend that you be vaccinated again, just in case. The CDC says this is safe. Your doctor is the best person to determine what to do in this case.

Learn More

The CDC and Vaccines.gov offer information about adult vaccinations, and tips on creating a vaccination record.

Find updates about this year’s flu season and the flu vaccine from Flu.gov and the CDC.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about the immunizations that are right for you, and if you are suffering from symptoms of the flu.

No one thinks getting a shot is fun, but for a fun reminder about adult immunizations, try your hand at the “Senior Immunizations” wordfind in this issue of the Assisting Hands “Hand in Hand” newsletter.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2016.

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)