While most of the conversations related to vaccines this year have been focused on names like Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, it’s important not to overlook others. Because an essential part of successful aging is disease prevention, it’s vital to know which vaccines you need and how often.
By taking a proactive approach to wellness, including a conversation with your primary care physician about vaccination, you may be able to avoid some viruses and other medical conditions. That’s especially true if you adopt other lifestyle choices linked to successful aging, such as exercise, a balanced diet, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.
Vaccines Can Help Prevent or Lessen Severity of Health Problems
So, what vaccines should you talk with your doctor about? They’ll likely have recommendations for you based on your personal and family medical history, but here are some to review:
- Annual influenza vaccine: Seniors are less able to fight a bad bout of the seasonal flu than younger people. In fact, seniors make up the majority of people hospitalized with influenza every year. The flu shot is adapted to build immunity against the predicted dominant strains for a particular flu season. While the shot might not keep you from getting influenza completely, it can help to lessen the severity and length of sickness.
- Shingles vaccine: In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Shingrix, a new vaccine for preventing shingles, a very painful condition that causes a rash and blistering of the skin. This vaccine is so effective that its predecessor, Zostavax, is no longer sold in the United States. Unlike Zostavax, Shingrix doesn’t use a live virus in the vaccine. People over 50 who’ve had chicken pox or previously had shingles are generally encouraged to get this two-step vaccine. Your doctor may also recommend getting this vaccine if you don’t know whether or not you had chicken pox as a child. Protection is believed to last 5 years or longer.
- Pneumococcal vaccine: Pneumonia can be deadly for adults over the age of 65. But there is hope in the form of a two-step vaccine. The general guidelines suggest people get the two doses one year apart. Those who are immunocompromised or living with a chronic health condition, however, might be advised to get them 8 weeks apart. The first dose is pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), and the second is pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). This set of vaccines are thought to offer a lifetime of protection.
- Tdap vaccine: This is another one that most people should likely receive. It offers protection against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough), each of which can be life-threatening. As more adults are choosing not to have their children vaccinated against whooping cough, there has been a resurgence in this nearly eradicated illness. The Tdap vaccine is an inactive vaccine that is made using dead bacteria. That means it won’t make you sick if you receive it.
- Hepatitis vaccine: While there are many types of hepatitis, the ones against which people are vaccinated are hepatitis A and B. Not everyone needs these vaccines. Your doctor will recommend them based on your lifestyle. For example, people who travel internationally to countries where these illnesses are common, people with chronic liver disease, and those with a history of illegal drug use are typically good candidates.
Take Advantage of the Medicare Wellness Visit
Communicating with your doctor about your wellness plan is important, and that includes more than just your vaccine schedule. Fortunately, the Medicare Wellness Visit gives you time to do just that. It’s a yearly appointment covered by your Medicare benefit. It’s designed to encourage you and your doctor to work together on a personalized care plan that includes routine bloodwork and screenings.