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Older Adults Skipping Shingle’s and Other Vaccines

RM Shingles


When we were children, for the most part, certain practices and priorities in regard to our well-being were pressed upon us. We were told that if we wanted to grow up big and strong that we had to eat our fruits and vegetables. We were told that if we wanted to have a nice smile, we had to brush our teeth and floss twice a day. And if we wanted to stay healthy; we had to visit the doctor regularly.

For the most part, these practices have served us well, and given us the opportunity to pass similar practices on to our children in hopes that they will remain happy and healthy. However, a growing problem is that when many adults hit their ‘golden years,’ they often seem to be forgetting to look after themselves.

How exactly? By ignoring their vaccinations.

What should be a relatively simple process is currently turning into an ongoing and troubling public health concern. Although the aging population was arguably quite vigilant about vaccinating their children, they seem to be throwing caution to the wind when it comes to protecting themselves. This troubling finding is further compounded by that fact that diseases like influenza, pneumonia and shingles (a.k.a. herpes zoster) are particularly dangerous for older people.

“Trying to prevent these common and often debilitating conditions is incredibly important for older adults,” said Dr. Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet in the C.D.C.’s 2014 and 2015 reports on vaccination coverage, she said, “we really didn’t see much change.”

However, this does beg the question as to why this is happening?

“Vaccines are less likely to be routinely incorporated in adult medical practice,” Dr. Bridges said. “Every time a child comes in, a pediatrician makes sure they’re up-to-date.”

When it comes to older adults, it is often the case that they will have preexisting medical conditions that take precedence during their visits to the doctors. Also, many of their appointments are made up of seeing specialists, whose focus is on cardiology or oncology, and not the flu, or in this case shingles.

So what can be done about?

Information and awareness are the answer. Seniors and caregivers should be proactive in requesting the vaccination. And Dr. Bridges is even taking it one step further this holiday season, endorsing the arguably unfestive, but highly pragmatic gift of a vaccine.

“Give them the shingles vaccine as a gift,” Dr. Bridges said. “But don’t give them the flu.”