Flu season is upon us. With the sounds of sneezing and a cold chill brewing in the air, it is an important time to educate caregivers and senior care professionals on the importance of vaccinations for older adults.
Many seniors do not get vaccinated despite the heightened risk for health complications with advanced age. Seniors over age 65 are 100 times more likely to die from vaccine preventable diseases than children. In fact, approximately 50,000 adults die each year from vaccine preventable diseases.
Caregivers and seniors may have many questions and concerns related to vaccinations: Which shots are necessary? Are they safe for those with multiple chronic conditions? What vaccines does Medicare cover?
To make things simple, here is a quick breakdown of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Influenza (flu): The CDC estimates that of the 36,000 deaths from flu annually, over 90% of are age 65 and older. Over 225,000 seniors are hospitalized with flu complications annually. It is no question a yearly flu shot is a must. Seasonal flu shots decrease a senior’s chance of contracting influenza and lessen the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. The best time to get vaccinated is in October or November, as it takes the shot one to two weeks to stream through your system. If you are vaccinated too early in the season, you run the risk of losing protection in late Winter. Your physician may recommend a new high-potency flu vaccine, Fluzone, instead of a standard flu shot. This high-dose vaccine provides 4 times the amount of antigens, creating a stronger immune response for improved protection. Cost for an annual flu shot is covered under Medicare Part B.
Pneumococcal: Pneumonia is the leading cause of death and illness among seniors. It causes more than 46,000 deaths in the United States each year — more than any other vaccine-preventable disease combined. All older adults over age 65 are strongly encouraged to get this one-time vaccine. Those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma, and diabetes are also at high-risk. This vaccine is safe, provides long-term protection, and is also covered under Medicare Part B.
Shingles: Over one million Americans suffer with shingles every year. The herpes zoster virus first shows up as chicken pox in childhood but can resurface decades later as shingles. Symptoms include a painful skin rash, blisters, headache, and fever. Since the severity of symptoms increases with age, all adults over age 60 should get the one-time shingles vaccine, Zostavax ®. Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans cover the vaccine, but copayment / coinsurance amounts vary by plan.
Want to learn more about the vaccines your loved one needs? Use the CDC’s Adult Immunization Scheduler tool to receive personalized vaccine recommendations based on your age, health status, and other factors.