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Immunizations for Older People: Round-Up

Leigh Ann Hubbard August 5, 2019
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It’s National Immunization Awareness Month, and stories about vaccines for older adults keep evolving.

Read on to learn about why immunizations matter for older people and catch up on these stories. And check out the CDC’s 2019 vaccine recommendations for all ages here.

You can learn about what Congress can do to ensure older adults have access to vital preventive immunizations with this Financial Barriers to Adult Immunization fact sheet prepared by the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition.

Looking to plunge into the immunization issues in a more fun way? AARP’s got a quiz that tests your vaccinations knowledge.

Headlines & Insights: Curated excerpts from thought-provoking articles

How Aging Affects Your Immune System
U.S. News & World Report | Lisa Esposito

The bottom line is that [as you get older] your immune system is just not as robust as it used to be, [Philippa] Marrack explains. As a consequence, it takes longer for your body to figure out when you have an infection. Once detected, it takes longer for the immune system to deal with it—your body starts losing the race between bacteria or viruses. You get sick more often. Infections are more severe and more of a threat than when you were younger, and you recover from them more slowly.

Vaccinations are key for protecting you from infection. However, vaccines may not work as well as they used to.

There’s Another Measles Outbreak: Do You Need a Shot?
PBS NewsHour | Nsikan Akpan

The PBS NewsHour posed these questions and concerns to two experts: Stephen Morse, director of the infectious disease epidemiology program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Dr. William Moss, a infectious disease epidemiologist and pediatrician at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health…

What if you’re an older adult and you had measles as a child? Do you still need to get a shot?

Moss: This is somewhat arbitrary, but we generally say that people born before 1957 are immune, because almost everyone got measles before then. The vaccine was introduced in the United States in 1963.

Morse: And we believe that if you actually had it and recovered, you have lifelong immunity, which is good.

Moss: So, there’s no good evidence that once a person has developed protective immunity to measles, either because they had the infection before or from the vaccine, that that protection wanes over time.

Pneumonia Vaccine: How Things May Change for People 65+
Next Avenue | Bob Blancato

A key U.S. government panel recommended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the CDC—change its previous recommendation that all adults over 65 get an advanced vaccine against pneumonia. The advisory group instead recommended that a physician and a patient age 65 or older decide together whether the patient should get the PCV-13 vaccine…

 “This decision was a classic compromise—between continuing the existing recommendation and no longer recommending it. But as with any compromise, there could be consequences. Here, the most serious one would be any decision by the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—CMS—to stop or limit Medicare coverage of the PCV-13 vaccine. If that happens, it will slow the trend of more older adults getting vaccinated and exacerbate the disparity of older minority groups being covered at a lower rate than non-minorities. The focus now shifts to CMS.”

Seniors More Likely to Skip Nursing Homes Where Staff Skip Flu Vaccines
McKnight’s Long-Term Care News | Kimberly Marselas

Almost three-fourths of seniors said they’d be less likely to choose a nursing home if they found a large share of its staff wasn’t vaccinated against the flu, according to a new poll. …

The new results, from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, come at a time when nursing homes and assisted living facilities lag behind hospitals and other healthcare settings in flu vaccination rates. Attempts by some long-term care employers to require such vaccinations are still a magnet for controversy.

Why You Need a Whooping Cough Vaccine
Consumer Reports / Lauren Cooper

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, was close to eradication in the 1970s, thanks to the whooping cough vaccine. But in the past few years, we’ve seen several worrisome outbreaks of this bacterial illness, which can bring uncontrollable coughing fits so severe that they may cause vomiting, obstruct breathing, and even crack ribs.….

And because not everyone has visible symptoms when ill with whooping cough, parents, grandparents, and caregivers may pass the illness on to babies unknowingly.… Experts say babies usually catch whooping cough from relatives. The best way to protect infants, he says, is to make sure everyone who touches them has had the whooping cough vaccine. “The concept is to create a cocoon of protection around the infant,” Schaffner says.  

Whooping cough can also be risky for people who are elderly or frail. “Bones weakened because of osteoporosis are more likely to break as a result of a coughing fit, and persistent coughing can interfere with eating,” [Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports] says.  

A version of this post was published in August 2018.

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Leigh Ann Hubbard

Leigh Ann Hubbard is a freelance journalist specializing in aging, health, the American South and Alaska.

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