August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) highlighting the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. Older adults are at increased risk for many vaccine-preventable diseases. Preventable illnesses cause substantial morbidity and mortality in older patients, who tend to have more medical co-morbidities and are at higher risk for complications. Complications from vaccine-preventable diseases account for 50,000 to 90,000 adult deaths in the U.S. each year with pneumonia and influenza as the fifth leading cause of death in older adults in the U.S. Infections such as hepatitis B virus, which attacks the liver and can cause liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Over 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years and older. Seniors who develop shingles(herpes zoster), a viral infection caused by the chickenpox virus, may face an increase in their risk for having a stroke or heart attack.
The increased vulnerability to infection of the elderly makes them a particularly important population for vaccination. However, challenges to immunization of older adults include compromised or weakening immunity and lack of provider confidence in vaccines for the elderly. Many older adults feel that they do not need vaccinations, or worry about side effects from the vaccine itself. To the contrary, older adults are at higher risk of complications from the actual diseases.