Article By Heidi Rebstock
Is anybody going to be holding a party for National Immunization Awareness Month? It’s in August, one of the hottest months of the summer in Texas, and most of us probably won’t give it much thought. But just because we’re not celebrating or even looking forward to that month doesn’t mean the topic of immunization isn’t important. Every year you hear about how bad flu season has hit or how people who got the flu vaccine still got sick. What’s the point of getting a vaccine if it might not work?
According to a CDC report from the 2016-2017 season, flu vaccinations managed to prevent an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations! The report included that vaccine coverage was highest for people in the age 65 and over group and lowest for people 18-64. Data from a 2015 report on Surveillance of Coverage on Adult Populations (also by the CDC) gave a concrete number of influenza vaccination coverage of 73.5% in the 65 years and older group. This means senior citizens are absolutely on top of things when it comes to getting vaccinated with the flu vaccine.
It’s a good thing, too, because people who are 65 years or older are a vulnerable population due to immune systems which have weakened with age. If you’re 65 years or older and have diabetes or take medication that also weakens your immune system, you’re going to have an even rougher time if you’re not vaccinated and illness strikes. The flu vaccine isn’t the only one you need to think about, either.
For adults aged 65 years or older, not only is a once-a-year flu vaccine recommended, but also the zoster vaccine for shingles (if you’re over 50 and haven’t had it, the recommendation is two doses of RZV or one dose of ZVL at 60 years and older, even if you’ve had shingles before), and pneumococcal vaccine. The rates for older adults who got these vaccines were slightly less than for the flu vaccine but still sitting at over 50%.
This is great because of a principle called herd immunity. According to the History of Vaccines (an educational resource by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia), more people getting vaccines limits the spread of disease which indirectly protects the unimmunized, those who can’t be vaccinated, and those who got a vaccine but didn’t get to enjoy any of the benefits. Herd immunity can begin with vaccination rates as little as 40%, but more commonly, vaccination rates may need to be as high as 80-95%. So, spread the word to your friends!
And while you’re at it, you might need to drag your 19-64 aged relatives and friends with you, too. Since vaccination rates are the lowest among this group, they’re the guiltiest party when it comes bringing down the herd immunity principle. Sometimes, the younger generations don’t really deserve all the bad-mouthing they get from the press, but in this case, they do really need to step up their game since they’re getting vaccinated at rates slightly less than 50%. For an even more incriminating breakdown, adults aged 19-49 had an influenza vaccine coverage rate of 32.5% and 48.7% among adults aged 50-64 years. Immunization isn’t just an individual’s responsibility to take control of their health; it’s a community-wide effort to prevent the spread of disease.
Always ask your doctor if you have any doubts or concerns about taking a vaccine. These days, it’s gotten easier and easier to receive a vaccine. Doctor’s offices, the health department, and pharmacies are the best places to go to have a vaccine administered. Generally, Medicare Part B covers vaccines that protect against the flu and pneumococcal disease. Medicare Part D plans cover even more vaccines than Part B, but there might be out-of-pocket costs. You can contact Medicare to find out more.
“CDC Reports on Vaccine Benefits for the 2016-2017 Season.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 19 April 2018. Web. 29 May 2018.
“Herd Immunity.” The History of Vaccines. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 2018. Web. 29 May 2018. <www.historyofvaccines.org/content/herd-immunity-0>.
Williams, Walter, et al. “Surveillance of Vaccination Coverage Among Adult Populations- United States, 2015.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 5 May 2017. Web. 29 May 2018. <https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/ss/ss6611a1.htm>.