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Vaccinations for Older Adults

April 20, 2022
Vaccines can prevent more than 20-life threatening diseases and help people live longer, healthier lives. In recent years, COVID-19 alone has taken millions of lives, sickened hundreds of millions more, and been a sobering reminder of the importance of vaccinations.
 
This article was medically reviewed by Ann Wells, M.D.

“With vaccines, we are trying to treat the population to prevent serious illness instead of waiting for people to get sick and then having to hospitalize them,” says Dr. Roger Felix, a primary care doctor at InnovAge’s PACE center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
 
Though COVID-19 is still top of mind for many people, Dr. Felix is quick to mention the risks of other potentially deadly illnesses that can be reduced through vaccinations, including influenza, or the “flu,” and pneumonia.
 
“People over 65 are at more risk for complications and severe disease from influenza and pneumonia because our immune systems aren’t as strong as they used to be,” he says. “Pneumococcal infections can lead to infections, hospitalizations, or death, and it’s not unusual for someone who has influenza to develop pneumonia as a secondary infection,” explains Dr. Felix. “Those who get a flu shot have a lower risk of this happening.”
 
Health issues such as diabetes, chronic respiratory illness, heart disease, kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, puts people, especially seniors, at an even higher risk of serious illness from flu or pneumonia.
 
Here are a few tips to protect against the flu, COVID-19, and other viruses:
  • Get your flu shot. The flu virus contributed to 52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020, but the vaccination saves approximately two to three million lives each year. If you’re eligible, both flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be administered in the same visit. The CDC recommends getting the flu shot before November 1.
  • Get a pneumonia vaccine. The vaccine is recommended by the CDC for adults over 65 and for those who are at increased risk, have impaired immune systems, and for those who smoke cigarettes. The vaccine provides protection from the most common bacterial pneumonia. Unlike the flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccines can be given year-round.
  • Follow all COVID-19 precautions. If you are eligible and your primary care doctor recommends it, get fully vaccinated, including a full booster series. If you're sick, stay home. If you leave the house, wear a mask and physically distance six feet from people outside of the home.
  • Be aware of germs. Avoid being around people who are sick. Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, nose, and mouth. Cough into elbows instead of hands, and practice proper handwashing.  
If you have questions about vaccinations, talk to your primary care doctor on what makes the most sense for you and your family.
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