As the seasons begin to change, ensuring all vaccinations are up to date is an important step toward long-term health. Especially for those 65 or older, protecting against influenza, pneumococcal disease and shingles cannot be overlooked.
“At this time of year, we talk to all of our patients about getting vaccinated for the flu,” said Dr. Charles O’Dowd, an internist at Clarkstown Medical Associates in New City. “With our patients 65 and older, we use this as an opportunity to make sure they’re up to date on their other vaccinations."
For people 65 and older, a high-dose flu shot is recommended. “Once you’re 65, your immune system requires a higher-strength vaccine to get you to a protective level,” said O’Dowd. Receiving a new flu shot every year to match the current year’s circulating flu strain is key. The side effects of forgoing the immunization can be deadly; each year the number of flu-related deaths reaches the tens of thousands. Flu season usually peaks between December and February, so early immunization is also key.
The pneumococcal vaccine protects again pneumonia and meningitis, which kills between 45,000-63,000 Americans annually. Those over 65 should schedule a series of two pneumococcal vaccines a year apart. Additionally, people with certain medical conditions including chronic illnesses, immune deficiencies or those with cochlear implants or who smoke should consider an earlier vaccination.
Another disease that commonly plagues those over 65 is shingles, which is a painful rash that develops on the skin, similar to chickenpox. After scabbing over, shingles usually clear up within two to four weeks. However, the pain can last for months or even years after the rash has disappeared.
The shingles vaccine is designed to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the residual pain. Even for those who have already had shingles, the vaccine can help prevent a recurrence. However, those with HIV/AIDS, who use steroids or are undergoing cancer treatment should not receive the vaccination.
Getting vaccinated is all about protecting you and the people around you, O'Dowd explained. “By getting vaccinated, you’re protecting both yourself and the entire community,” he said. “The more people who are vaccinated, the more protected they are.”
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