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Why vaccinations are important

Created date

June 13th, 2018
Dr. Narrett leads the medical team at all Erickson Living communities

Dr. Narrett leads the medical team at all Erickson Living communities. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he has been providing care for seniors for over three decades.

Vaccination is a cornerstone of medical care and the most powerful method of illness prevention offered by medical providers. Since the development of the smallpox vaccine by Edward Jenner in the 1700s, medical science has developed vaccines for illnesses ranging from measles to tetanus to the flu.

Immunization with vaccines is particularly important for seniors as immune response declines with age, and you become more susceptible to illnesses such as pneumonia, flu, pertussis (whooping cough), and shingles. Unfortunately, you cannot feel your immune system changing over time, nor can you prevent the process by engaging in healthful living practices. According to research, too much faith in their immune systems may be one of the top reasons not enough seniors get immunized. The latest (2015) reports from the National Center for Health Statistics show only 57% of adults age 65 and up had received a tetanus vaccine in the previous ten years, 64% had received a pneumococcal vaccine,  and only 34% had received the vaccine against shingles.

Benefits vs. risks

Along with the personal costs to health and functionality, vaccine-preventable infections are responsible for about $26 billion in health care costs. Not only are seniors more likely to get these infections, the toll on their health is worse, but their illness outcomes tend to be more severe than for younger adults. It is important to keep these consequences in mind if your reason for not being vaccinated is fear of side effects or if you are hesitant about potential out-of-pocket costs. Overall, risks of vaccine side effects are very low (the most common is temporary redness or soreness at the injection site), and most insurances including Medicare cover a significant amount of the cost.

Shingles is a good illustration of why immunization is crucial. The likelihood of getting this disease increases significantly as you age. In fact, people who have had chickenpox and who live to age 85 have a 50% chance of developing shingles. Symptoms can be severe, and the hallmark sign is a painful rash. The shingles virus travels along the nerves so this pain can be substantial.

The associated rash can cause permanent scarring or disability depending on its location—especially if it occurs near your eyes or ears. Although a bout of shingles lasts about ten days to two weeks, seniors are at a high risk of long-term complications such as post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition characterized by long-term nerve pain, numbness, and tingling at the shingles site. Like most vaccines, such as the flu shot, the shingles vaccine does not guarantee you won’t get the disease, but it does mean your symptoms will likely be less, and you will also have a reduced risk of residual complications.

Please talk with your health care provider about vaccines that you may be due to receive. The Centers for Disease Control is a great resource for reference as well (https://bit.ly/2qOUqlm).

Vaccines are generally safe and effective and can play a vital role in your health and well-being.

In good health,

Dr. Narrett

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