CLEVELAND – According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 63 percent of hospitalizations and 90 percent of flu-related deaths each year occur in people over the age of 65.
According to Susan Rehm, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic, many dangerous illnesses and complications faced by older adults are preventable with vaccination.
However, she said that it’s often easy for adults to miss out on important vaccines.
“Vaccines are an ounce of prevention, and adults may not think about themselves as needing vaccines,” said Dr. Rehm. “We really, as a society, concentrate on trying to get children vaccinated, but vaccines are definitely for adults too.”
Dr. Rehm said when we can prevent illnesses, it lessens the possibility of hospitalizations and complications.
There are four vaccines that adults over the age of 50 should receive: influenza, tetanus, shingles and pneumococcal.
The influenza vaccine – commonly called the ‘flu-shot’ – should be received every year.
The tetanus vaccine, which also protects against diphtheria and whooping cough is especially important for adults who may be around babies who have not been vaccinated yet. Whooping cough, can be very dangerous, even deadly for babies.
The shingles vaccine – which is given in two doses – can protect against a very painful condition that can result in lasting pain.
And finally, there are two pneumococcal vaccines – which protect against pneumonia – which are especially important.
Dr. Rehm said pneumonia, a dangerous respiratory illness that can result from the flu, is responsible for about one million adult hospitalizations each year.
“Pneumonia is obviously a big deal by itself, but recent studies have shown that people who get pneumonia may be at risk for stroke, and possibly heart attack, and other things that we wouldn’t necessarily think about in the realm of respiratory diseases,” she said.
Dr. Rehm said people are sometimes apprehensive to receive a flu shot ever year, citing that it’s not one hundred percent effective.
But she said adults should know that as we age, we’re more likely to have other health issues, which can increase the chance of having complications if flu hits.
“Thousands and thousands of people die every year; and hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized because of influenza,” said Dr. Rehm. “People say, ‘this may not be effective for me,’ and to that I say – ‘I know that if you don’t get the vaccine, it will not be effective;’ it has zero chance of working if you don’t get it.”
Dr. Rehm said adults who have received a transplant, or who have a weakened immune system for other reasons, may benefit from additional vaccines and should consult with their doctor.