Children need a host of vaccinations, which usually get done. But once we pass a certain age, we tend to forget and skip the needle entirely. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults aged 50 and up get four separate vaccines to protect against illnesses that hit older people particularly hard. While most people already plan on getting their annual flu shot, most older people skip the others, putting them at a greater risk for everything from tetanus to pneumonia.
According to Ada Stewart, M.D., a family physician in Columbia, S.C., and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians, “As we get older, our immune system isn’t as well-functioning.” Therefore, this increases the danger that you'll contract a variety of ailments, but can also raise the risk for people you are in contact with too.
It is therefore essential that you are up to date on these shots. With the exception of the shingles vaccine, they are typically fully covered by most insurance plans, with no copay or coinsurance due. So be sure to check with your insurance provider for specific coverage details.
Below is a list of four vaccines any adult over 50 needs:
1. Protect yourself against shingles
Ask for: Shingrix, an approved vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration. It is more than 90% effective against shingles and its side effects, according to the CDC.
For: Anyone 50 or older.
Why you need it: Shingles is a painful rash with blisters caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. As you age, your risk for developing shingles increases, and if you've had chickenpox. In addition, after having shingles, some people experience long-lasting and sometimes severe pain, known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can persist for months, or possible, years.
What’s involved: Two doses, two to six months apart.
What else you need to know: The CDC recommends you get Shingrix even if you previously got Zostavax, an older shingles immunization. Ditto if you already had shingles or are not sure if you had chickenpox.
2. Ward off pneumonia and related diseases
Ask for: Prevnar 13 (PCV13) and Pneumovax (PPSV23). They are two separate vaccines which when combined, provide greater protection against the pneumococcal bacteria that cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections than if you had to take the shot alone.
For: Anyone 65 or older. You are also a candidate for the vaccine (no matter what your age) if you have chronic liver, heart or kidney disease, HIV, diabetes or alcoholism, or if you have cochlear implants, or have had your spleen removed.
Why you need it: Older adults are more likely to come down with pneumonia and related illnesses. Once you do get it, you become more prone to develop complications which can lead to serious health problems, hospitalization and also death.
What’s involved: Two shots, taken a year apart.
3. Boost your immunity to tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
Ask for: The Tdap vaccine or a Td booster shot.
For: You need the Tdap-booster shot for the childhood DTaP vaccine if you never got the vaccine as a teenager. This is especially true if you have contact with infants or young children. If you got a Tdap over 10 years ago, then you need a booster shot for tetanus and diphtheria only (Td).
What’s involved: A one-time shot for Tdap, and a Td booster every 10 years.
Why you need it: For people over 50, this shot is vital as it can guard against spreading the disease to a baby, such as a grandchild. Infants under six months of age are at greater risk of complications from pertussis, also known as whooping cough. This can be life-threatening.
What else you need to know: You should wait at least two weeks before you have any contact with infants.
4. Get a better flu shot
Ask for: Any of the following vaccines will provide extra protection against the flu, these include: Fluzone High-Dose, which contains four times the amount of antigen (a substance that prompts your body to make antibodies against the disease) as a regular flu shot; or FLUAD, which helps create a stronger immune response; and quadrivalent vaccines, which protect against four strains of flu, as opposed to the usual three.
For: Everyone older than six months should get the annual flu shot, and people over 65 should get one of the stronger vaccines.
What’s involved: One shot per year which the CDC recommends you get by the end of October. Studies show the protection starts to wear off in four to six months, especially in older adults. Which means that if you get the shot too early, it may lose its effectiveness once the flu season hits its peak.
Why you need it: As you get older, your chances of coming down with the flu are greater, and, if you fo get it you are likely to get sicker. People aged 65 and older account for 60% of flu-related hospitalizations.
What else you need to know: While it varies from year to year, the regular flu shot is only 40% to 60% effective. New, stronger varieties also don't guarantee you won't get sick. Nevertheless, some protection is better than none.