August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Organizations and communities across the United States raise awareness every August about the importance of vaccines for people of all ages. Vaccines play an important role in protecting against many diseases like polio, measles, or the seasonal flu. These diseases once harmed or even caused the deaths of millions of people, but because of vaccines, they are much less common and deadly than they once were. Vaccines help protect the person who got the vaccine from getting sick. They can also help prevent the spread of these diseases to people who are more at risk for complications, such as infants and young children, older adults, and those with chronic illness or weakened immune systems.
It is especially important for older adults to get vaccines. As you age, your immune system may not be as strong as it was when you were younger. This can make it easier for you to get sick and to have a harder time fighting off infections. Older adults are also more likely than younger people to have complications from illness, such as longer-term illness, hospitalization, and even death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older adults get the seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine every year. The CDC also recommends that older adults get the Td or Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. In addition to these vaccines, the CDC also recommends that older adults get shingles and pneumococcal vaccines.
If you have ever had chicken pox, you may be at risk for developing shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. This virus can stay inactive in your body for years after you’ve recovered from chicken pox, but it can suddenly become active again. 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will get shingles in their lifetime, and over 1 million Americans are affected by shingles every year. Shingles usually lasts 2-4 weeks. Symptoms of shingles include
a painful, blistering rash that develops on one side of the face or body
a tingling, burning, or itching sensation that appears 1-5 days before the rash develops
fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach
Older adults are more susceptible to complications caused by shingles. The CDC recommends that people who are 50 or older get 2 doses of the Shingrix shingles vaccine 2 to 6 months apart every year. For more information about shingles and the shingles vaccine, please visit the CDC website.
Pneumococcal vaccines can help protect against pneumococcal disease, or infections that are caused by a type of bacteria. Pneumococcal disease can be spread by person-to-person contact with saliva or mucus. There are many different types of pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common type. Symptoms include
fever and chills
rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
Older adults are at higher risk for getting pneumococcal disease due to weaker immune systems. They are also more at risk for developing complications from pneumococcal disease, like sepsis. Symptoms of sepsis include
confusion or disorientation
shortness or breath
high heart rate
fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
For more information about pneumococcal disease or the pneumococcal vaccine, please visit the CDC website.