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Healthy Geezer

Many vaccines are advised for older people

By Fred Cicetti | May 09, 2013

Q. Are there vaccinations for older people? Which ones should I get?

To get the appropriate vaccinations for you, discuss the subject with your physician.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these general recommendations for seniors:

• Influenza vaccine to protect against seasonal flu.

• Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Tetanus, sometimes called lockjaw, affects the nervous system. Diphtheria is a respiratory disease. Pertussis is commonly known as whooping cough.

• Pneumococcal vaccine for pneumococcal diseases that cause infections in the lungs, blood, brain and ear. Pneumococcal diseases can take various forms, including pneumonia and meningitis.

• Zoster vaccine, which protects against shingles, a painful skin disease caused by the chickenpox virus awakening from a dormant state to attack your body again.

There may be other vaccines to consider because your health, job or lifestyle may put you at higher risk for certain diseases. For example, people with diabetes should get the Hepatitis B vaccine.

If you are planning to travel out of the country, find out which vaccines are recommended or required. Visit the CDC Travel Health site to learn more. Go to: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/

In childhood, we are given vaccinations that provide immunity against a broad range of diseases. Recent evidence indicates that the immunity conferred by childhood vaccinations may diminish as we age. So, it is now possible to receive a supplementary booster injection for these childhood diseases.

Aging weakens our immune systems, making us vulnerable to infections, which are more dangerous to older people. Vaccines can help boost the immune systems of older people.

Immunizations teach your body how to defend itself when viruses or bacteria invade it. They expose you to small amounts of viruses or bacteria that have been weakened or killed. Your immune system then learns to recognize and attack the infection if you are exposed to it later in life. As a result, you will either not become ill or have a milder infection.

Our immune system is a complicated network of cells, tissues and organs. It is composed of two major parts: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. Both change as people get older.

The innate system is the first line of defense. It includes the skin, the cough reflex, mucous membranes and stomach acid. A second line of defense includes specialized cells that alert the body of the impending danger. Inflammation is an important part of our innate immune system.

The adaptive immune system is more complex than the innate immune system and includes the thymus, spleen, tonsils, bone marrow, circulatory system and lymphatic system. These different parts of the body work together to produce, store and transport specific types of cells and substances to combat health threats.

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