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Preventive Vaccines: Your Best Shot for Good Health at 65-Plus

UCLA Health
Dr. Sonja Rosen

What can you do to maintain your health at age 65 or older? More than you might think! This article will focus on one aspect of health maintenance: preventive vaccines.

Flu vaccine
During flu epidemics, the hospitalization rate for older people increases two to five times. Flu vaccinations are necessary every year because the flu virus constantly changes. Vaccination helps prevent both the flu and its more serious complications, such as pneumonia. Everyone 65 or older should get a flu shot every year between September and mid-November, unless they are allergic to eggs. Side effects of the flu vaccine are usually rare. And, no, you cannot get the flu from a flu shot!

Pneumonia vaccine
Pneumococcus, a type of bacteria, is the leading cause of pneumonia. Of the more than 40,000 deaths caused by these infections each year, 80 percent are in people over age 65. Consequently, they should receive the pneumonia vaccine, called “Pneumovax,” as a preventive measure. Older adults who received Pneumovax five years ago or longer or received it when they were younger than 65, should be vaccinated again. Those who are unsure about ever getting the vaccine should get it to be certain – and make note of it.

Tetanus vaccine
Tetanus infections are rare but are associated with a high death rate. More than half – 60 percent -– of tetanus infections are in people 60 years or older. Older adults who have never been vaccinated should receive two tetanus shots, one to two months apart, followed by a third shot six to 12 months later. After that, tetanus booster shots should be given about every 10 years.

Shingles Vaccine
Zostavax is given to protect against shingles, a very painful condition often associated with a rash. It is caused by the Herpes Zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. If you had chicken pox when you were younger, then as you get older, the same Zoster virus can reactivate in the form of shingles. The shingles vaccine should be given to all people age 60 or older, including those who have had a previous episode of shingles. Because it is a live vaccine, you should not get the shingles vaccine if you have an immune deficiency, are taking immunosuppressive therapies or have untreated tuberculosis. You should also not get it if you have an allergy to gelatin or neomycin.

Remember to always ask your doctor or other healthcare professional about the safety and appropriateness of any vaccine.

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