“Sarah” a 68 year old former smoker of 25 years was offered a pneumonia vaccine this week at Iora Primary Care. Her response was “I never had pneumonia and don’t need the vaccine”. Thankfully, we had the time to explain to her that as we age our immune systems weaken making us more susceptible to not only getting pneumonia but also becoming more sick if we do. We explained that for people who have smoked for many years, the lining of the lungs that ordinarily help filter germs that cause pneumonia don’t work as well.
When we think about vaccines, we think about patients like “Sarah” and also about the overall statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC “estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations […] ranged from 140,000 to 710,000 and flu related deaths […] from 12,000 to 56,000” for adults 65 and older.
There are a few common questions our doctors receive from either older adult patients or family members around what vaccines/shots we recommend as protection against common diseases.
Vaccines We Recommend for Older Adults
- Flu – viral infection that is treatable, but deadly to vulnerable groups (e.g., elderly)
- Shingles – painful rash that appears on the body; this is considered a manifestation of chickenpox
- Diphtheria – infection of the nose/throat
- Tetanus – infection that causes painful muscle spasms
- Whooping Cough – contagious respiratory tract infection
- Pneumonia – infection of the lungs that causes air sacs that may fill with fluid
Why are we recommending these vaccines and not others?
These vaccines address the most common, preventable diseases that affect older adults annually. Your doctor can advise on any other vaccines that may be needed.
What are some common side effects of these shots?
For most of the above vaccines, redness/swelling from the shot, headache, chills, nausea and muscle aches, and tiredness are common side effects. Most of these are uncommon, but it’s important to consult about preventable diseases and what to consider as you age.
Sarah told me that no one had ever taken the time to explain the reasoning behind it to her and received her vaccine after saying “well that makes sense.” In your next appointment, be sure to ask your doctor which vaccines are right for you.