Every year, as many as 90,000 adults die from a vaccine-preventable disease in the United States, according to the Alliance for Aging Research.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable. When it comes to common illnesses such as pneumonia and the flu, the Alliance says the death rate for adults age 85 and older is more than 120 times higher than it is for the rest of the population.

That’s why it’s so important that all seniors — especially those with chronic conditions like heart disease and COPD — stay up to date on their vaccinations and recommended boosters.

“As we get older, our immune system becomes much less ­robust, which means we’re not just more at risk for getting diseases like the flu and shingles but of developing life-threatening consequences from them,” said William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious ­disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in a recent Consumer Reports article.

What Vaccines Do I Need?

According to Consumer Reports, the four shots that all older adults should be up to date on include:

  • Annual flu vaccine
  • Pneumococcal vaccine
  • Shingles vaccine
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster

The Florida Dept. of Health publishes an immunization schedule and summary of recommendations for adults.  The Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices (ACIP) for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also publishes recommendations and guidelines for older adults.

Your doctor will recommend specific vaccines based on your age, health history, and factors like travel and exposure to risk.

Tip: Bring the CDC’s Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule to your appointment to discuss your options.

How Effective Are Vaccines?

As important as vaccines are, they don’t always provide 100% protection, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. While the tetanus shot is reported to be 100% effective, vaccines against the flu are only about 50% effective.

Still, “half a loaf of bread is better than none,” Schaffner told Consumer Reports. “If you get vaccinated and still get the flu — or other illnesses, like shingles — your illness is probably going to be much milder than it might have been. You’re much less likely to develop a life-threatening complication, much less likely to be admitted to the hospital and much less likely to die.”

Do Vaccines Make You Sick?

After a vaccine, some people may report feeling under the weather and blame it on the vaccine. But it’s impossible for inactivated vaccines to cause an infection, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. It’s also very rare that a live vaccine will cause someone to develop a condition or disease.

Vaccines help our bodies develop immunity by imitating an infection. This fake infection can cause symptoms like a mild fever, which is part of the immunity-development process, says the Alliance for Aging Research.

Does Medicare Cover Vaccines for Older Adults?

Most private insurance plans cover vaccines, depending on the provider. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance company to understand your coverage options.

According to this fact sheet published by Medicare Learning Network,® Medicare Part B (medical insurance) covers the Hepatitis B vaccine, influenza virus vaccine, pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine, and vaccines directly related to treatment of an injury or direct exposure to a disease.

Medicare prescription drug plans (Part D) generally cover more, including the shingles shot, but may require out-of-pocket costs. Costs may vary based on the vaccine and doctor, so call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit medicare.gov to make sure you understand your financial responsibility.

Where Can I Get Vaccinated?

Most doctor’s offices can administer vaccines. You may also be able to obtain them from a pharmacy, community health clinics or your local health department.

To learn more about healthy aging in Florida, call a Sonata Senior Living community near you today or schedule a visit →

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