Contrary to what many believe, the flu is not just a bad cold. It’s a dangerous, and often fatal, respiratory disease. In the United States alone, up to 56,000 people die each year from the flu, while hundreds of thousands are hospitalized. Some of these deaths are in those with pre-existing medical conditions, but a considerable number are in previously healthy individuals.
The flu is such a big deal that it's the only vaccine that is recommended for everyone over 6 months old, with very few exceptions.
The elderly should get this vaccine every year, not just to protect themselves, but also to protect the young members of their family. Until babies receive their first dose at 6 months, they rely on those around them to get vaccinated in order to keep them safe. However, since the flu is also dangerous to older adults, getting an annual flu vaccine is a win-win.
Even if it’s not flu season, you should still have a flu shot, especially if you’re going to be surrounded by kids under the age of 2, as influenza viruses can circulate all year round.
2. Pertussis Vaccine aka Tdap
If you have a new grandchild on the way, you might have already been asked to get the Tdap vaccine, which protects against three diseases, including pertussis (or whooping cough).
Pertussis is often underdiagnosed in adults as it tends to have milder symptoms outside of childhood. In fact, many adults don’t even realize that they’re infected, often dismissing any sign of infection as allergies. However, even if the symptoms are mild or absent, you can still pass the bacteria on to other people, including newborn babies, for whom pertussis can be deadly. Almost half of babies under a year old who contract pertussis have to be hospitalized.
The first dosage of pertussis vaccine is given at 2 months old, but the series includes a number of doses over a span of years, and it’s not 100% effective.
This is where grandparents – and everyone else in the family – getting themselves vaccinated comes into play. After all, if you protect yourself, you’ll be protecting your grandchildren.
While pertussis is usually transmitted from adults to small kids, pneumococcus – a bacterium that can cause pneumonia, among other things – can often be passed from young kids to older adults.
In children, pneumococcus can lead to mild illnesses such as ear infections or, sometimes, but rarely, more serious conditions such as meningitis. However, in older adults, pneumococcus is a leading cause of pneumonia, resulting in an estimated 900,000 cases every year in the U.S. alone.
While around 90% of American children under the age of 3 are fully vaccinated against pneumococcus, the rate is much lower for adults over the age of 65.
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines, and depending on your age or health, you’ll likely need both of them. The recommendations for these vaccines can be a little bit complicated, so it’s important that you talk to your doctor about which you might need and when.
4. MMR – Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine
If you were born after 1957, and haven’t been vaccinated against measles recently, you might want to consider getting a booster shot.
Measles used to be extremely common in America, but through mass vaccination campaigns, the number of measles cases has dropped by 99%. While America has seen success in fighting measles, it’s still a commonplace in much of the world – including Western Europe – and it remains a leading cause of death in small children all over the world, killing more than 100,000 people every year.
In some U.S. communities, a small, but ever increasing, number of families are deciding to delay or forgo vaccines for measles, meaning that it is slowly making a comeback across the country.
Even if you don’t think you’re at risk of passing along measles – or mumps or rubella – it’s still a very good idea to make sure that you are up-to-date with this vaccine, just in case.
If your older than 60, you should talk to your doctor about getting a shingles shot.
You can’t actually transmit shingles to your grandchildren, but you can give them chickenpox as the two diseases are caused by the same virus. When you’re infected with chicken pox, the virus stays dormant in your body and can reactivate later in life to cause shingles. And when you have shingles, you can spread the virus to someone who hasn’t had chickenpox or who hasn’t been vaccinated against it yet.
While both diseases cause rashes, the shingles rash is often more painful and tends to be isolated to one side of your body or along your nerves. Sometimes the pain can last for weeks, months, or even years after the rash has disappeared.
Chickenpox in small children is usually milder than chickenpox in adults or pregnant women, but it’s still very dangerous. Before the vaccine was available, chickenpox caused more than 100 deaths a year in the United States.
Kids under 1 year of age and pregnant women are most at risk from complications of chickenpox, but they shouldn’t get the vaccine due to potential risks. Instead, they must rely on everyone around them to help keep them safe by getting vaccinated.