Recommended vaccinations for older people extend beyond the flu jab

With such a heavy focus on the importance of receiving the annual flu jab, it is easy to forget the importance of older people being up to date with all vaccinations, writes Natalie Soulsby.

With such a heavy focus on the importance of receiving the annual flu jab, it is easy to forget the importance of older people being up to date with all vaccinations, writes Natalie Soulsby.

As part of the National Immunisation Program there are several vaccinations that are recommended for people over the age of 65 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50.

Natalie Soulsby

Vaccinations are recommended for:

  1. pneumococcal infection
  2. shingles
  3. diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

Preventing pneumococcal infection

The Pneumovax 23 vaccination protects against pneumococcal infection, which can lead to death in vulnerable populations. Pneumococcal infection can cause a number of serious infections including:

  • pneumonia
  • meningitis
  • septicaemia
  • middle ear infections.

The vaccine does needs to be repeated after five years to ensure continued protection.

Common side effects of this vaccine include:

  • soreness, redness, warmth, swelling or the presence of a hard lump at the administration site
  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • lethargy or weakness
  • generally feeling unwell
  • nausea or vomiting.

These symptoms should disappear after a few days.

Preventing and reducing effects of shingles

The Zostavax vaccination helps prevent shingles. It isn’t used to treat shingles, or the pain associated with shingles. However, if you have been vaccinated and experiencing an episode of shingles it will reduce the intensity and length of time that the pain lasts.

It can also help prevent neuropathic pain that can occur after an episode of shingles. Zostavax cannot be given at the same time as Pneumovax 23 . There should be a four-week gap between receiving these two vaccines.

The most common side effects include:

  • redness
  • pain, swelling, a hard lump, itching, warmth or bruising at the injection site
  • a headache
  • pain in arm or leg depending on where the injection was given.

People can only get shingles if they have had chickenpox and not the other way around. The risk of getting shingles increases with age. This vaccination is only given once.

Preventing diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough

Adacel and Boostrix are combination booster vaccines to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough), all of which are potentially serious and life-threatening diseases.

Diphtheria infection can cause inflammation of the airways and release a toxin that can cause nerve damage and cardiovascular problems, all of which can lead to death. This is especially a problem for older people.

Tetanus, also known as “lockjaw”, is caused by the tetanus bacteria entering through a wound in the skin. The toxin released by the tetanus bacteria can cause muscle stiffness and painful muscle spasms leading to fitting and death.

Even if you have had tetanus disease previously you are not immune from getting it again if exposed to the tetanus causing bacteria.

Pertussis, which is better known as whooping cough, is very infectious. Initial infection can cause mild symptoms often indistinguishable from a minor respiratory tract infection. Unfortunately, this is when it is at its most contagious.

It causes repeated episodes of coughing that can affect breathing as it is difficult to expel the thick mucus from the lungs. The cough can last for up to 100 days.

Common side effects of the vaccine include:

  • swelling
  • pain or redness at the injection site
  • headache, tiredness and generally feeling unwell.

As with all vaccinations severe allergic reactions are rare but recipients should be monitored for as a precautionary

Natalie Soulsby is a clinical pharmacist, specialist in geriatric medicine and head of clinical development at Ward Medication Management.

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