A radio station recently provided some statistics on the percentage of seniors who don't get necessary inoculations. Unfortunately, since I was driving, I wasn't able to write down these statistics. However, I have been able to find some statistics through online searches.

The number of older adults not getting the shots they need to keep them healthy is significant, so I want to encourage our Howard County seniors to seriously consider talking to their doctor about getting shots, which are important to their future health.


The John Muir Health site on Senior Immunizations reports that several preventable diseases cause significant illness and even death in unvaccinated seniors. An estimated 45,000 adults die annually from complications due to vaccine-preventable diseases.

According to Kaiser Health News, Sept. 12, 2015, vaccination rates among the elderly are falling short. Phil Galewitz reported, "Three out of four Americans older than 60 don't get a shingles shot to protect them from the virus' miseries: rashes over the face and body, stinging pain that can last for weeks or months and the threat of blindness."

Why wouldn't seniors want to prevent this kind of pain by getting this shot to help prevent this debilitating disease? Often, the older adult doesn't get the shot until he or she has experienced it through a relative's suffering.

Public health officials urge older adults to get the shingles vaccine as well as other shots they need. According to the latest federal data, "Rates for older adults getting flu, pneumonia, tetanus or shingles shots, the four most used vaccines among the elderly, have stayed flat and fall behind national goals." This means that millions of older Americans are at risk of dying, being hospitalized, or, with shingles, suffering debilitating, long-lasting effects.

In terms of the flu vaccine, one out of three seniors skips this shot each year. Flu immunization rates for seniors have been around 65 percent for more than 15 years. Between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans, primarily older adults, died of flu or related illnesses each flu season for 30 years through 2007.

Four in 10 seniors do not get vaccinated for pneumonia. For those who did not have pneumonia previously, the pneumonia shot is recommended once for people age 65 and older. Pneumonia affects about 900,000 seniors a year, with 60,000 deaths each year.

Nearly half of seniors are not immunized for tetanus. The shot is recommended once every 10 years to prevent "lockjaw," a rare but often deadly bacterial condition. In addition to diphtheria, the new tetanus vaccine, called Tdap, includes a booster for whopping cough or pertussis. More seniors are getting whooping cough, possibly because their immunity has faded.

The flu vaccination season is underway. You can get your flu shot at your primary care physician's office or at your local pharmacy. Some senior citizen centers and special events, like the 50+ EXPO, Friday, Oct. 16 at Wilde Lake High School, also offer flu shots. Patients with high-risk conditions such as heart disease or diabetes should get the flu shot.

Under Medicare Part B, flu and pneumonia shots are free. Vaccinations for shingles and tetanus are covered under Medicare Part D but often require co-payments of $100 or more. This added cost might be one of the reasons seniors don't get these two shots. Another reason may be that primary care physicians usually don't store shingles vaccine in their offices because of its limited shelf life. Doctors usually issue a prescription for the shot and the patient fills it at a pharmacy or health clinic.

Seniors may also avoid getting the flu shot because the effectiveness of the shot seems to vary each year. In 2014, the flu shot only reduced a serious flu by 19 percent.

Many older adults feel that they do not need vaccinations, or worry about side effects from the vaccine itself, but people age 65 and older are at higher risk of complications from the actual diseases than the vaccinations.

Also, if you travel, you may need additional vaccines.

Talk to your primary care doctor about vaccinations; discuss your health problems with the doctor; get his recommendation on which shots are right for you; and then follow up. These steps will help prevent disease and maintain your healthy lifestyle.

Doctors need to make vaccines for seniors a priority in their care.