August is National Immunization Month. Traditionally, the importance of immunizations are focused on the young. In fact, immunizations are important for people of all ages.
Vaccine-preventable diseases cause significant illness, hospitalization, pain, disability, and death in the United States. Older adults are disproportionately affected:
- Pneumonia causes between 300,000-600,000 hospitalizations in older adults annually.
- More than 50 percent of annual flu-related hospitalizations and 90 percent of annual flu deaths are in people age 65 and older.
- The death rate from pneumonia and influenza combined is close to 130 times higher in people age 85 and older as compared to people ages 45 to 54.
- Around 50 percent of the more than one million cases of shingles each year are in people age 60 and older—and many who suffer with the infection end up with postherpetic neuralgia-induced pain that lasts for months, years, and for some, forever.
- Boosters for tetanus, diphtheria, and other diseases are necessary after the age of 65, and, if not updated, leave the individual vulnerable to serious and potentially deadly diseases.
- Additionally, without vaccine boosters for diseases like pertussis, young children who are exposed to the non-vaccinated can suffer serious consequences.
Despite these facts, vaccination rates among older adults are low. One reason is the financial burden on low income older adults experiencing a coverage gap. Another reason is that older adults are not knowledgeable about vaccine-preventable diseases. They do not get vaccinations because of concerns about safety and efficacy.
If you are an older adult please check with your physician to make sure your vaccinations are current. If you care about an older adult in your life educate them on the importance of staying current on vaccinations. If every person in the United States was current on their vaccinations it would significantly improve our health in this country.