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August: National Immunization Awareness Month

As we prepare for a new school year, you may hear a lot of buzz about immunizations; but don’t forget that older adults also need vaccines! You may need to boost childhood vaccines that have worn off over time, or you might be at a higher risk of serious complications and even death from preventable diseases.

More importantly, people who can’t get vaccines due to compromised immune systems, and are at an even higher risk of serious complications from a disease like shingles or pneumococcal disease, depend on other adults around them getting vaccinated. The same goes for older adults: as we get older, our immune systems get weaker, meaning some immunizations may not be as effective. You’ve probably heard of this before; it’s popularly known as herd immunity. Ensuring our communities are as low-risk as possible is key to healthy aging.

But first…

Here are some vaccine myths that you may have heard. If you’re concerned about any of these points, talk to your doctor, or check out the World Health Organization’s breakdown.

  • False: Vaccines contain unsafe levels of chemicals or toxins.
  • False: Natural immunity is better than immunity through vaccines.
  • False: The annual flu shot is ineffective.

Only you and your doctor can determine what is best for you. But do keep in mind the adults in your community who rely partly on you to keep them safe from diseases like shingles.

So, what vaccines might you need?

You can find out from your doctor, but The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends…

Your annual flu shot. This is especially important if you have a chronic or existing health condition. The flu shot protects against the two or three most prevalent strains during each flu season.

If you didn’t get one as a kid or you’re not sure, the Td or Tdap vaccine prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. The CDC recommends a Td booster every 10 years, so ask your doctor if you’re due.

Shingles cases are becoming more common in the United States, and older adults are more likely to experience serious health problems because of it. 1 to 4% of people who get shingles are hospitalized for complications. The shingles vaccine is recommended for anyone who is healthy and over 50.

Remember that idea of herd immunity? Pneumococcal disease is a great example of why it’s important. Pneumococcal vaccines protect against pneumococcal disease and infections in the lungs and bloodstream. Pneumococcal disease can cause pneumonia, sepsis, or meningitis. The bacteria spread through coughing or sneezing, or through direct contact such as kissing. This vaccine is recommended for anyone over 65, or anyone younger than 65 with certain chronic health conditions.

These are just a few of the vaccines that your doctor may recommend, depending on your current health, lifestyle, age, and any existing health conditions. While your local pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens, may offer a variety of immunizations, it’s always best to consult your doctor before getting any shots.

The CDC has a list of other recommended vaccines, including those you should ask about if you’re preparing to travel or have a special circumstance.