| Thu, Jan 31, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

Vaccines: They’re Not Just for Kids

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

Vaccines: They’re Not Just for KidsIt’s flu season again. That means it’s time for a flu shot. But the flu is just one disease older adults need to consider getting vaccinated against.

Vaccines can prevent serious diseases, some of which can be deadly. They can also help prevent disease from spreading to loved ones and others in your community.

You may need one or more vaccines, even if you were vaccinated as a child or young adult. The following vaccines are recommended for older adults. Ask your doctor which ones are right for you.


Flu vaccines are developed each year to protect against the three viruses experts think will be most common during the season. The season peaks in January or February but can occur as late as May.

Flu vaccines are available as a shot or in a nasal spray. It’s best to get the vaccine as soon as it is available in your area. But it’s not too late to get it in January or beyond.

The flu vaccine is generally safe and effective. Some people experience a mild reaction such as soreness, headache or fever. These usually go away within a day or two. Get immediate medical attention if you have a severe reaction such as difficulty breathing, hives or facial swelling.

You can get the shot at your doctor’s office, many pharmacies and other community locations. Check the Flu Vaccine Finder for a location near you.

Flu shots may be inadvisable in certain situations. Talk to your health care provider about getting a flu shot if you have:

  • A severe allergy to chicken eggs
  • A history of severe reaction to a flu vaccination
  • An illness with a fever (you should wait until you are better to get the vaccine)
  • A history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS)


The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the inactive virus stays in the body. In some cases, the virus reactivates years later and causes shingles.

Shingles usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body. Blisters develop that usually scab over in seven to ten days. Shingles typically clears up within two to four weeks.

The most common complication of shingles—and one reason vaccination is so important—is postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. PHN causes severe pain in the areas where the shingles rash occurred, even after the rash clears up.

The pain from PHN may be severe. It usually goes away in a few weeks or months. In some cases, PHN can persist for many years.

Vaccination is the only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and PHN. You are at risk of shingles if you have had chickenpox. The effects of shingles are typically more severe in older people. It’s recommended that all adults age 60 and older get the shingles vaccine. You only need to get it once.


Many people have the bacteria that causes pneumonia in their noses and throats. Sneezing and coughing can spread the bacteria to others.

The bacteria that causes pneumonia can also cause blood infections, brain infections and middle ear infections. The bacteria causes disease only when it gets into other parts of the body. No one really knows why this sometimes happens.

The pneumonia vaccine protects against 23 types of bacteria. Most healthy adults who get the vaccine develop protection to most or all of these types. The vaccine is effective within two to three weeks of getting a shot. Very old people and people with some long-term illnesses might not respond as well or at all.

You only need one dose of the pneumonia vaccine. People with certain chronic health conditions may receive a second dose five years after their first dose, if recommended. Ask your health care provider for more information if you have any chronic conditions.

Diphtheria, Tetanus and Whooping Cough

Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough are different diseases caused by different bacteria. You can be vaccinated against all three at once.

Diphtheria is a respiratory disease. Symptoms include a sore throat that comes on gradually and a low-grade fever. Diphtheria can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and even death.

Tetanus is an infection that causes painful muscle contractions. It mainly affects the neck and abdomen. It’s sometimes called “lockjaw,” because it often affects jaw muscles. Tetanus can cause breathing problems, severe muscle spasms, seizures and paralysis. It can even be fatal.

Whooping cough is also called “pertussis.” It’s a very contagious respiratory disease. It causes severe coughing spells, vomiting and disturbed sleep. People with pertussis usually appear to be well between coughing fits.

Most people receive vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough as infants and children. Adults need a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine as a booster shot every ten years or after exposure to tetanus in some circumstances. In place of one of these booster shots, adults need a vaccine that includes protection against whooping cough as well as tetanus and diphtheria.

Stay Informed

The CDC created an entertaining video, VSI: Vaccine Scene Investigation, that can help you understand more about vaccines and why they are so important. You may also want to check out the resource links at the end of this article. Talk to your doctor about any questions you have regarding which vaccinations are right for you.

For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.


Medicare.gov: Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare.

Vaccines.gov: Learn more about vaccines, which you should have and more.

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