As we age, vaccines become even more important. The immune system weakens over time and can make it more difficult to fight off infections, which makes older adults more susceptible to diseases like influenza, pneumonia, and shingles. Illnesses like these can lead to complications including long-term illness, hospitalization, and even death. Immunizations can also prevent harmful comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease. Staying up to date on vaccines is essential to the health of each individual, their families, and the community. There are several vaccines recommended for those age 65 years and older to ensure maximum protection:
Physicians recommend getting the flu vaccine annually to protect you from the influenza virus. The flu vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies protect against infection from flu viruses used to create the vaccine. Researchers determine which influenza viruses will be most common during the upcoming flu season and use that information when developing the seasonal flu vaccine. The vaccine is made from completely dead forms of the influenza virus which means there is no scientific way to contract influenza from the vaccine. The flu vaccine is generally safe among those six months old and up.
Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis) and Td Vaccine
Physicians recommend all adults need one dose of Tdap and then need tetanus/diphtheria boosters every 10 years. Tdap is currently recommended (CDC) as a one-time booster, though it is often given in lieu of Td due to availability. It is a combination vaccine that simultaneously protects against three bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Tdap acts as a booster vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria. Today, diphtheria and tetanus are at historic low rates in the United States. Cases of pertussis have seen an increasing trend since the 1980s; however, pertussis affects far fewer people today than before pertussis-containing vaccines were widely available. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the United States saw as many as 200,000 cases of diphtheria and pertussis before the vaccine was introduced on a large scale.
Zoster (Shingles) Vaccine
The CDC recommends the Zoster vaccine for the prevention of herpes zosters, more commonly known as shingles. Healthy adults at least aged 50 years or older should receive two doses of this vaccine. Each dose should be separated by a two-to-six-month period. This vaccine protects you from shingles and complications that arise from shingles like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). The current vaccine in use is Shingrix. It is an inactivated vaccine, not a weakened form of the virus (which the previous shingles vaccination, Zostavax, was, which is no longer available in the US as of November 2020). Shingrix should be given to adults with impaired immune systems or on immunosuppressants as they are more susceptible to a zoster reactivation.
The CDC recommends PPSV23 for all adults 65 years or older, people two through 64 years old with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes. This vaccine helps prevent pneumococcal disease. There are two common vaccines available in the United States that prevent pneumococcal disease: the PCV13 and the PPSV23. The PCV13 vaccine is usually recommended for children younger than two or those with certain medical conditions. The PPSV23 is recommended for a larger population. Most recently, a new 20-valent pneumococcal vaccine has become available. Through a shared decision-making process, patients and providers can discuss their options. Talk to your provider to determine which vaccine is right for you.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines utilize new technology to create an mRNA vaccine, which uses mRNA to teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine utilizes more traditional vaccine technology. Immunized patients can still contract COVID; however, their overall cases are much milder than those who remain unvaccinated.
The choice to get vaccinated is an important one, especially for those 65 years or older. Residential communities like nursing facilities, assisted living, or independent living facilities often carry a higher risk of illness. Vaccines will not indefinitely prevent you from contracting illnesses; however, they can protect you from some of the most harmful effects of illnesses, such as hospitalization, long-term complications, or death.
“Think about it this way: bacterial pneumonia comes from many different types of bacteria, but the vaccine protects those from some of the most deadly forms,” said Nicole Tiefel DNP, FNP-C of TPMG Discovery Park Family Medicine. Vaccines have minimal risks and are generally very safe. The risk for those age 65 years or older are the same as any population, with the exception of the possibility of decreased effectiveness for some vaccines with age. Serious complications from vaccines are very rare and do not outweigh the many benefits.
For those hesitant to receive vaccines, for whatever reason, your doctor is an excellent resource. They can discuss more about the various risks and benefits of vaccines and help you decide what vaccines are right for you. Talk to a TPMG provider today about what vaccines you should consider to help protect you and your loved ones against harmful disease.
About Nicole Tiefel DNP, FNP-C
Nicole L. Tiefel, DNP, FNP-C strives to deliver quality, compassionate care with a focus on health promotion and disease management. She treats patients of all ages – pediatrics, adolescents, adults, and geriatrics – for acute and chronic conditions. She has worked with non-insured populations, patients living in remote areas, and those who are high-risk for hospital admission. This has given her great insight into managing the most vulnerable in the healthcare system. Nicole believes every patient deserves access to high-quality, evidence-based healthcare, tailored to meet their individual needs.
TPMG Discovery Park Family Medicine in Williamsburg welcomed Nicole to the practice in 2021.