While exercising regularly and eating healthily can do wonders for the overall wellbeing of older people, there are key vaccines all over-60s should be aware of to protect against infection and disease as they age.
The immune system doesn’t work as well as it once did in older age because T-cell function decreases, leaving people more susceptible to certain viruses and infections.
“As we get older we see more of this reactivation of certain infections happening,” Brisbane-based GP Dr James Moran tells Starts at 60. “In protecting themselves against infections, vaccination is key because the immune system’s ability does decrease as we get older.”
There are four vaccines that should be on the radar for all over-60s.
A new influenza vaccine is released each year to target the most aggressive strain of the virus at the time. Getting the injection in April typically protects people from June to September, which is peak flu season in Australia. Over-65s are eligible for a free enhanced influenza vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), while a high-dose vaccine is also available but is not covered by the NIP. Anyone interested in getting the high-dose vaccine should speak to their GP about their options.
Pneumococcal disease, a contagious bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, is particularly harmful for people aged over 65, as well as people with diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease or cancer. The disease refers to a range of illnesses such as mild infections, ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis and other serious health issues. As such, the pneumococcal vaccine is recommended to protect against the disease.
The Pneumovax 23 is given to over-65s to cover 23 strains of pneumococcal disease. It’s given as a single needle and is covered under the NIP for over-65s and at-risk patients.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, occurs when the chickenpox virus reactivates and is best prevented with the Zostavax vaccine.
“Vaccination against the herpes zoster is the most effective strategy to provide increased protection against both the zoster reaction, but also in preventing the post-herpetic neuralgia [a burning pain that lasts after the rash and blisters have disappeared] that can happen with it,” Moran says.
The vaccine is available to people aged over 50 and is also recommended for those who live in the same household as a person with a weakened immune system. All people aged over 60 are encouraged to get the vaccine, but it is only offered for free under the NIP to those aged between 70 and 79.
Patients only require a single shot, but a single catch-up dose is also available for adults aged 71 to 79 years until October 2021 as part of the NIP.
All over-50s are also encouraged to get the whooping cough vaccine at the same time as their tetanus and diphtheria shots to protect against the highly contagious whooping cough. Experts also recommend those aged over 60 get the vaccination if they haven’t had it in the past 10 years.
There are four different vaccinations are available for whooping cough and GPs will decide which injection is best for individual cases.
These injections aren’t available for free over-60s and cost depends on which injection is administered.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.