National Immunization Awareness Month: Educating Seniors On Important Vaccinations

Megan Ray  |  August 27, 2015

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which means that health care professionals should make a special effort to ensure their older patients are getting vaccinated for the diseases that seniors are particularly prone to. This is essential because as older adults age, their immune systems weaken and they become more vulnerable to sickness. 

Illnesses like influenza impact people of all ages, especially during flu season, which starts as early as October and lasts until May most years, according to However, adults over 65 years old are more susceptible to the flu than people of other ages. This is true for most common illnesses, which makes immunizations particularly important for older adults.

Health professionals can help increase the number of seniors who receive their immunizations by talking to their patients about the benefits of vaccinations and the risks involved in failing to get them. There are a few ways that doctors can help to inform their patients of the importance of immunizations.

How can health professionals promote immunizations?
While many seniors still fail to get vaccinated for conditions likes pneumonia and shingles, which are increasingly common among adults over 60, there have been improvements over the years, explained the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, in 2009, almost two-thirds of seniors over 65 years old received their flu shot and more than 60 percent were vaccinated for pneumonia. However, a mere 10 percent got vaccinated for shingles, a condition that impacts nearly 500,000 older adults every year. 

Other than simply talking to seniors about why they should receive vaccinations for certain conditions, health providers can also provide information on where to get their free flu shots in the area. Placing pamphlets with lists of local pharmacies and organizations that offer flu shots in the waiting room at the doctor's office, for example, will encourage older adults to go for their vaccination if they don't get one at their appointment.

Educating seniors on how the immunizations, particularly the flu shot, will affect their bodies and prevent them from developing serious illnesses may help to sway them in the right direction. Share the possible side effects of the flu shot, which the CDC noted include headaches, muscle aches, redness and temporary discomfort at the injection site. These are generally mild and temporary and shouldn't prevent seniors from getting the appropriate immunizations, explained the source.

Which conditions are seniors particularly prone to?
According to the CDC, there are a few diseases in particular that impact adults over 65, one of which is pneumonia. Remind older patients that they're at a greater risk of developing the condition and that pneumococcal vaccines will help them avoid serious infections in the blood stream and lungs. Recommend the herpes zoster vaccine to help seniors avoid shingles as well. 

A total of 60 percent of the hospitalizations in the U.S. due to the seasonal flu are patients 65 years and older, noted the source. Inform patients that because seniors' immune systems weaken as their bodies age, the effects of developing the flu are far more severe than if they were to experience it at a younger age. This is why so many older adults are hospitalized because of the illness. suggested telling them that the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine was designed specifically for patients over 60. However, the CDC pointed out that it's important to warn those with certain chronic conditions, such as life-threatening allergies and Guillain-Barré syndrome, that they may have to avoid the shot.