Vaccines are more important as we age
Q: I’m over 50. What vaccines do I need?
A: The risk of acquiring certain diseases, such as shingles, pneumonia and flu, increases with age. Flu is also a big reason for hospitalizations in patients over 50 years old.
Therefore, vaccines for flu and shingles are recommended for everyone aged 50 and older, while vaccines for pneumonia are recommended for those 65 and up.
Flu: There are three different kinds of flu vaccines: quadrivalent flu vaccine, high-dose flu vaccine and the adjuvanted flu vaccine.
Quadrivalent flu vaccine, the most commonly used, provides protection against four different flu viruses: two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains. This vaccine is recommended by the CDC for everyone over the age of six months.
High-dose vaccine is a trivalent vaccine, meaning it provides protection only against three strains of the influenza viruses. However, it contains four times the normal amount of antigen that is in a normal trivalent vaccine.
A higher dose of the antigen in the vaccine will give patients a stronger immune response, which will provide better protection against the flu.
The adjuvanted flu vaccine is made with MF59 adjuvant, an additive that creates a stronger immune response.
The high-dose flu vaccine and adjuvanted flu vaccine are designed specifically for patients 65 and older to generate a stronger immune response. Nonetheless, the CDC does not recommend any one flu vaccine over another.
Shingles: The CDC reports that almost 1 out of 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime. Shingles vaccine is another one that is recommended by the CDC for people over the age of 50.
Currently, there are two vaccines for preventing shingles: Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax is a one-dose vaccine that has been available since 2006, but it is only about 51% effective in preventing shingles.
Shingrix, on the other hand, is a two-dose series that is over 90% effective. Due to this significant increase in effectiveness, the CDC now recommends Shingrix to everyone over the age of 50. The second dose of Shingrix should be administered two to six months after the first dose.
Zostavax can still be used in people who are over 60 years old or may be allergic to Shingrix.
Pneumonia: Pneumonia causes the majority of hospitalizations among older adults in the U.S.
Fortunately, two vaccines are available to protect older people. PCV-13 vaccine protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal bacteria, while PPSV23 protects against 23 strains.
The CDC used to recommend both vaccines for patients 65 and older, but recently changed its recommendations. The CDC now only recommends PPSV23 vaccine for all adults 65 and older. The PCV-13 vaccine still can be administered to this age group based on patient preferences and provider recommendations.
Most insurance plans cover these vaccinations as preventative healthcare (copays may differ due to differences in plans or policies). If you’re not insured, check around — some pharmacies offer vaccinations at reduced cost.
If you are concerned about financial costs of these crucial vaccines, ask your pharmacist or insurance company for more information.
Vatsal Shah is a fourth-year Pharm. D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy. He majored in biology at Virginia Commonwealth University.