This time of year, everyone is focused on getting their flu shot. But there are other vaccines you might consider getting, especially as you get closer to that 65-years-old mark. The flu, shingles and pneumonia vaccines are arguably of equal importance. Here’s a closer look at why these three vaccinations for seniors are so essential.
Defend Against the Flu
You’ve probably seen recent headlines about flu-related deaths. Flu season this year has been more active than usual, largely because the strain of the virus that is circulating often leads to more severe cases of the flu.
As you age, your immune system tends to not respond as quickly, which causes the body to heal more slowly and increases your risk for disease. People over 65, who may have weakened immune systems, are at greater risk for getting the flu, as are pregnant women and young children. Getting vaccinated increases the body’s defenses against infection. Research shows that even if you do get sick, the vaccine can reduce the severity of your illness. One study found the vaccine reduced hospital admissions to the intensive care unit, the length of hospital stays and overall flu-related deaths. That’s reason enough to get the flu shot.
Stave Off Shingles
About a third of Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime, but getting vaccinated can reduce your risk.
Shingles aren’t just unpleasant visually — the condition is painful. Shingles lead to a blistery skin rash across various parts of the body. It can last up to four weeks and is caused by the same virus as chickenpox.
Another reason to get the shingles vaccine: a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. This painful condition can linger for months and even years and is caused by damage to the nerve from the shingles inflammation.
The risk for contracting the virus is typically higher if you’re 60 or older. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent shingles and reduce your risk of becoming one of the nearly one million people who acquire the condition each year. The FDA recently approved a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix, which is more than 90 percent effective and provides even stronger protection for older adults.
Did you know cold and flu season also brings an increased risk for pneumonia? This infection leads to inflammation in the airway and lungs, and in the winter months, you’re more likely to get it because respiratory illnesses increase during this time of year. These illnesses can damage your airways and make it easier for the bacteria that cause pneumonia to enter your immune system.
Children, the elderly and people with chronic conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that compromise their immune system have the highest risk of getting pneumonia. If you’re wondering whether to get the vaccine, talk to your health care provider. If you fall into one of these groups, it’s probably better to get vaccinated rather than not.
No matter what myths are out there, the studies are clear about the benefits of vaccination. Living a healthy lifestyle and getting regular exercise can boost your immune system, but there’s no diet or exercise regimen in the world that can completely safeguard you from viruses or infections like the flu, shingles or pneumonia.
Talk to your primary care physician about what vaccinations you should consider during this year’s cold and flu season.