Seniors! August is National Immunization Awareness Month

For many senior citizens, the fall is a time of grand kids going back to school, summer vacations ending, and snowbirds preparing to return to warmer locations. Caring for seniors means making sure they’re up-to-date on recommended vaccines. This year, because of COVID-19, the importance of vaccines for the elderly cannot be overstated.

While there is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus yet, public health experts say that immunizations will be critical for everyone, but especially the elderly and infants/children. That’s because a wave of influenza or other infectious disease happening in addition to a COVID-19 outbreak could have a serious impact on hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities.

That’s why the CDC is highlighting the importance of immunizations by declaring August as National Immunization Awareness Month in the US. August is a great time to make sure you and your elderly family members have up-to-date immunizations, and if appropriate, receive the annual influenza vaccine.

Getting Immunization Information

There is much confusion and deliberate misinformation when it comes to vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases, especially online. That’s why it’s best to use authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, and to discuss any information about vaccines you find with your doctor.

What Immunizations Do Elderly Family Members Need?

In addition to the annual Influenza vaccine, there are immunizations for Pneumonia, Hepatitis and several other diseases that you may need. You can visit the CDC website and use this valuable tool to see what immunizations are recommended, then discuss those results with your doctor.

About Vaccines

Vaccines work by triggering your body’s natural immune response. Some may contain weakened versions of a virus that will trigger the response while easily killing the virus.

Because there is so much information about vaccines, both good and bad, it’s important to discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor. But it’s important to remember:

  • Vaccines are extensively tested for both safety and efficacy. Vaccines must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before they can be used.
  • Like any medicine, vaccines can have side effects. But these side effects are tracked and studied during the approval process, and most are minor and go away quickly.
  • Some vaccines can wear off over time, meaning elderly people may need to be immunized again. Talk to your doctor about what you may need.
  • Here’s a handy explainer video about how vaccines work, and why they are important.

Given the importance of immunizations, some concerns about safety are natural. But as we raise awareness of immunizations, we should also note that in order to be approved for use, vaccines have to go through extensive safety testing. Here’s how the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases put it in 2010:

“When you’re dealing with an intervention, namely a vaccine, in an otherwise well population, safety concerns are ratcheted up even more. That’s the reason why, when you have vaccine trials, it involves thousands and thousands of people

Much more than the drugs, no doubt. All you need to do is to just show that [the drug] is effective. … But when you’re going to widely use a vaccine in large numbers of well people, particularly well children, you’ve got to be very, very careful and make sure that you’re sure about the safety and that the safety profile clearly outweighs any risk.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Frontline” April 27, 2010.

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