Vaccines for the elderly – the need of the hour!

Vaccine is not the word one will associate with the elderly when it comes to healthcare in India. The availability of the vaccines and their importance is not known by many and even if the knowledge is available, some doubts exist.

What all can be given and what are the vaccines that must be given, let us see in this article.

 Changes in an ageing immune system

 What are all the changes that can be seen in an ageing human? When our biological clock runs fast, the immune system that shoulders it runs faster, and as a result, the immune system is barely keeping up with the change. Because of it, elderly people find it difficult to mount a robust response to the infectious agents that they may face in day-to-day life. This leads to more infections in old age, compared to the younger population. Some of these infections can lead to severe complications and lifelong disabilities. Vaccines for the elderly come to play here, by preventing or lessening the severity of some of the common infections.

Who is more vulnerable?

 We have been talking about the elderly until now. Now, as a senior citizen who is reading this after your daily morning jog as a habit of the past 50 years, you might feel offended and think that this article is portraying you as someone who is so weak and unhealthy. And, if you are someone reading this for your parents or grandparents or a kind aunt or a loving uncle, you need not worry.

Even though elderly people as a whole come under vulnerable status, not all are the same. Elderly people with co-morbid conditions like hypertension, diabetes mellitus, any cardiac complications, kidney diseases, respiratory diseases and who had had habits like chronic smoking and chronic alcohol might be more at risk. Apart from these conditions, frail elderly people who are dependent on others for their day-to-day activities, and bed-ridden individuals are at increased risk.

Vaccination is something that will help them in fighting against a severe illness, reduce hospital stays, disability occurrence and delay death.

How senior citizens will get benefited?

 Elderly people will develop different symptoms compared to the other age groups. Compared to the regular symptoms like fever, cough, cold etc., they will present more with symptoms like reduced food intake, confusion etc.,

Vaccination will help them prime themselves against the infection to develop antibodies. So, when they encounter infections, the pre-formed immunity will help and support their own immunity to fight against the pathogens. It might reduce the severity, decrease the duration of the infection and help them recover faster. It also decreases the burden on the caretakers to a great extent.

Now, let us see what all vaccines are advisable and the conditions that these vaccines will be helpful in:

Influenza (flu) vaccine

An annual influenza vaccine is recommended to protect against seasonal flu viruses. The vaccine is usually updated each year to provide protection against the circulating strains.

Pneumococcal vaccines

There are two types of Pneumococcal vaccines recommended for the elderly: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV15) and Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23). These vaccines help protect against different strains of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, a common cause of Pneumonia, Meningitis, and bloodstream infections.

Herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine

Senior citizens are at an increased risk of developing shingles and its main complication is a severe form of nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, which may last for 6 to 9 months. A Shingles Vaccine, typically a two-dose series, is recommended to reduce the risk of shingles and its associated pain.

Apart from this, Tdap is recommended once in 10 years for Tetanus, Pertussis and Diphtheria. Hepatitis B and A vaccines are also recommended on a case-to-case basis.

Vaccine schedule may vary from time to time. So consult your Geriatrician before taking vaccines, and get a schedule tailored for you.

Happy ageing!

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