Opinion

Vaccinations help seniors avoid health risks 

A nurse prepares to administer an influenza vaccine. (Photo: redpixel.pl, via Shutterstock)

As the baby boomer generation ages, physicians like myself must begin to examine how we can improve the quality of life for one of the fastest growing demographics in the world. Too often, seniors in generally good health have their worlds shattered by preventable ailments.

A sudden fall or common cold can set anyone back, but for someone over the age of 65, a preventable injury or illness may alter their health trajectory and quality of life entirely.

Our immune systems change as we age, both in ability to respond effectively and consistently. Any intervention that boosts the immune system can help prevent or limit illness from infections. Vaccinations are key in the fortification effort, as they significantly reduce severity of disease and death from susceptible strains.

Prevention of illness is the best way to preserve quality of life and life expectancy.

According to the American Thoracic Society, pneumonia is the most common cause of hospital admissions for US adults, aside from women giving birth. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia each year.

Approximately 1,800 adults age 65 years and older die from pneumococcal disease. Individuals with chronic lung disease are at increased risk for infections with pneumococcus; and individuals with heart conditions such as heart failure are at increased risk from adverse outcomes with pneumococcal infection.

An influenza vaccine study showed 50 percent lower risk of mortality from all causes in the vaccinated group. Despite amply evidence of the benefits of vaccines, approximately 40 percent of adults 65 and older remain unvaccinated.

For adults over the age of 65, the CDC recommends both the 
PCV13 and PPSV 23 vaccinations, which help protect against most of the serious illnesses caused by pneumococcal bacteria. ACIP recommends that for routine immunization, PCV 13 should be administered first, followed by PPSV 23 a year later.As a practicing physician, I am involved in preventive care and advancing the general health of my community. Prevention of illness is the best way to preserve quality of life and life expectancy. That is why I urge all those over the age of 65 to receive the pneumococcal vaccine series in addition to making lifestyle changes to improve general health, life expectancy and quality of life. Staying healthy and infection-free improves quality of life and allows the full pursuit of life’s interests.

Ed’s Note: Suman Radhakrishna, M.D. is an infectious diseases practitioner with Southern California Infectious Disease Medical Group based in Los Angeles and a Board Member of Infectious Disease Association of California.

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