Big Shots

Vaccinations play an important role in preventing serious, life-threatening illness and disease, particularly during the earliest years of life.

But babies and growing children aren’t the only ones who need them. As we grow older, protection from some of those childhood vaccines may wear off. We may also be exposed to other vaccine-preventable diseases through work, travel or other conditions and can grow more vulnerable to serious health consequences as we age.

Some of the shots you should consider taking if you are over the age of 50 follow.

Flu Shot
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.

The flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can also kill. Those with weakened immune systems — including the elderly — are at considerably higher risk for the flu to cause serious harm.

The CDC recommends that all adults receive a flu vaccine every year, but places special emphasis upon the need for people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women and older adults to do so.

Zoster Vaccine/Shingles
Any child who has ever had chicken pox can tell you that this itchy, blistery condition creates nothing short of misery.

But what many people don’t realize is that long after the chicken pox are gone, a virus remains in your system that can reappear during adulthood in another form. Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is an extremely painful rash that erupts in people who have previously suffered from chicken pox.

The CDC estimates one in three Americans will develop shingles. There are an estimated one million cases per year, half of which occur in men and women age 60 or older. The zoster vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51 percent and the risk of developing a longer-lasting form of shingles known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) by 67 percent. The vaccination is given as a single shot and is recommended for anyone age 60 or older.

Today, children in America receive a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis — also known as whooping cough) booster shot at age 11 or 12, because protection from the vaccines for these three diseases, given earlier in childhood, fades over time. But this booster did not exist prior to 2005, so many adults may not have gotten it. If you haven’t received it, you should. All teens and adults need a Td (tetanus) booster every ten years. It is extra-important for adults who will be around infants since whooping cough is a serious infection for young children.

Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, can become serious and even deadly in older adults, whose immune systems may not be as strong as they used to be. The pneumococcal vaccine, therefore, is recommended for all adults age 65 and older and those younger than 65 who suffer from chronic conditions.

Ask your provider if you need the following vaccines as well.

This shot protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Most Americans receive this vaccination in two doses by the age of six. The CDC recommends that any adult who has not received this vaccine do so, especially if traveling outside the U.S., as measles is still common in some countries and those who are unprotected may get it while abroad and bring it home.

There are three types of hepatitis: A, B and C. Vaccines are available for types A and B, but not for type C.

Hepatitis A is an infection in the liver caused by a virus, spread through contact with fecal matter or by eating or drinking food or water infected with the disease. The CDC recommends that those over the age of one year receive this vaccine if they: live in an area with a high rate of hepatitis A; work in or travel to countries with high rates of the disease; use street drugs; are a male having sex with other men; have long-term liver disease; receive blood products to help clot their blood or do research on HAV or work in a lab with HAV-infected animals.

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus transmitted when blood, semen or other bodily fluids of an infected person enter the body of someone not infected, by sexual contact, needle-sharing or from mother to baby during childbirth.

The vaccine is given in three doses and is recommended for all children, as well as adults who live in or travel to areas with high rates of hepatitis B; have sex with more than on partner; have diabetes and are under the age of 60; work in healthcare and may be exposed to patients with hepatitis B; have HIV or end-stage renal disease; are on dialysis; inject drugs; have chronic liver disease; and have other special circumstances.

Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person.

Meningococcal Disease
Meningococcal disease is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, an infection around the brain or spinal cord that kills one in ten people who develop it. The CDC advises vaccinating all children and young adults, as well as some older adults at higher risk, such as those who travel to areas with high rates of the disease. Some older adults should not get this vaccine, so consult your provider about whether it’s appropriate for you.