Immunizations are not just for infants and children going back to school. In honor of Immunization Awareness Month, we are shining a light on the vaccines that some may not realize are just as important – vaccines for older adults.

MUSC Health Primary Care doctors Mark Newbrough and Julianna Marwell are geriatricians, focusing on the care of older adults. Illnesses often take a bigger toll on our bodies as we age, including certain infections, such as influenza, whooping cough, pneumococcal pneumonia, and shingles. Fortunately, vaccines, or immunizations, are available that can lessen the chances for older adults to become seriously ill from these infections. 

Recommended Immunizations for Patients Over 50

Dr. Newbrough and Dr. Marwell sat down to talk through their recommendations for most patients over 50. They recommend four main immunizations for the flu, whooping cough, pneumococcal diseases, and shingles. These immunizations are covered by insurance and can be scheduled at a local MUSC Health Primary Care practice.

Flu Shots (Influenza)

Yearly flu shots are the first line of defense for older patients. Flu shots are available without a prescription at your doctor’s offices, community clinics, and pharmacies. Many employers and senior living facilities even offer the flu vaccine on site. The CDC states that getting the flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and death for older adults. And don’t forget — by getting the flu shot you’re also protecting those around you who may be more susceptible to the flu virus.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot? Dr. Newbrough clears up this common misconception saying, “Because the shot does not contain actual influenza virus, a person cannot get the flu from the flu shot.” There may be some side effects like soreness where the shot was given or low grade fever for a day or so, but the vaccine cannot actually cause the flu.

Tdap Vaccine

Whooping cough can be a serious disease for older adults, those with chronic lung disease, or young children. The Tdap vaccine protects people from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (commonly known as whooping cough).

Although most older adults were immunized for these infections when they were younger, the CDC recommends boosters for all older adults to protect them and those around them who may be susceptible, including their grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Tdap immunization is available at pharmacies without a prescription, as well as at your doctor’s office. Tdap should be given once every ten years.  

Pneumococcal Vaccines 

Older adults are at greatest risk of illness and death from pneumococcal disease, and the pneumonia shots reduce these risks. All older adults need to take both shots, the PCV 13 and the PPSV 23, to be fully protected. The shots cannot be given at the same time, and people need to wait one year between shots. Once an adult over 65 has had both shots, they will not need to take anymore “pneumonia shots.” Pneumococcal vaccines are available at your primary care office, pharmacies, health clinics, and other locations without a prescription.

Shingles

The virus that causes chicken pox and shingles is the same virus. Most older adults were exposed to the chicken pox virus when they were young. Later in life, during periods of extreme stress or medical illness, the virus may reappear as a painful, localized rash called shingles. It can occur anywhere on the body, including in a person’s eye, and the pain may last long after the rash heals. For these reasons, the CDC also recommends the shingles vaccine for older adults. There are two different shingles vaccines including the new Shingrix vaccine. Talk to your doctor about which vaccine is best for you. 

Other Vaccines 

Your health provider can help you understand if there are other immunizations that you may need. For instance, hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines are typically recommended for patients with certain conditions like chronic liver disease.

People  with certain allergies or health conditions may not be able to receive certain immunizations, so be sure to talk to your doctor about any conditions or allergic reactions you may have had previously that would affect your immunizations.

Keeping Track of Your Vaccinations

No matter where you get your immunizations, whether at your primary care doctor, pharmacy, or other certified immunization provider, electronic health immunization records are stored in the South Carolina Immunization Registry. These records do not transfer to other states, so keeping your own record is helpful if you’ve just moved to South Carolina or are moving to another state.

Dr. Marwell recommends keeping a record of your vaccines for easy reference, in your wallet or purse, along with a list of medications. Understanding your history helps your care team provide the best possible treatment for your unique needs. It is always okay to ask your provider questions about your care, especially why you’re getting a certain vaccine.

Primary Care Doctors at MUSC Health

MUSC Health Primary Care doctors like Dr. Marwell, Dr. Newbrough, and many more are available to help you with your health care, from vaccines to more complex issues. Dr. Newbrough explains that healthy aging takes a comprehensive approach, not only managing your physical health, but your social, spiritual, and mental health as well. Vaccinations are just one small part of the whole and we are here to help.

MUSC Primary Care Doctor Mark Newbrough with patient

MUSC Health Primary Care appointments are available in locations throughout the Lowcountry including downtown Charleston, West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, Summerville, and more. Call 843-792-7000 to schedule your appointment with an MUSC Health Primary Care physician.