Immunizations for older adults are an important part of preventive care and just as important to your health as diet and exercise. The vaccine, or the shot you get from a medical professional, immunizes you against infectious diseases and significantly lowers your risk for getting certain diseases. This is especially important for older adults, because as you age, your immune defenses weaken, making it harder to fight off foreign or harmful substances. This is why a vaccine is so important – it may save your life. In order to decrease the risks from immune system aging, consider getting the flu and pneumonia vaccines, and any other vaccines your health care provider recommends. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends certain vaccines for seniors, but some adults with specific health conditions should not get certain vaccines or should wait to get them. Talk to your doctor about immunization recommendations for older adults and learn which ones are right for you.

Your health insurance may cover the cost of certain vaccines administered at your physician’s office or local pharmacy. Medicare Part B covers certain vaccines to prevent the flu, pneumonia, and Hepatitis B, if you are at medium to high risk. In certain cases, other immunizations may be covered if you’ve been exposed to a dangerous disease or virus. Generally, Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) covers all necessary, commercially available shots needed to prevent illness, while Medicare Part B will cover vaccines to prevent influenza. You can sign up for Medicare Part B when you first become eligible for Medicare. If you do not choose to enroll in Part B, with the monthly premium and yearly deductible, and you decide to enroll later on, you may be subject to late enrollment penalties. You can enroll in a Prescription Drug Plan during your initial enrollment period, but you can make changes to your coverage during the Annual Election Period (AEP), which occurs annually from October 15th to December 7th. Medicare Advantage plans will include your Part A and Part B benefits, and many include prescription drug coverage.

Seasonal Flu Shot Vaccine (Annually)

The flu may not seem as serious as other diseases, but for older adults it can lead to a hospital stay and sometimes even be fatal. The CDC has estimated that 71-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths and 54-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred in people 65 years and older. Consider getting your annual influenza shot to help minimize your chances of getting the flu and developing serious complications from it. If you’re 65 years of age and older, you also have the option of getting a high-dose flu vaccine, known as the Fluzone High-Dose, instead of a regular flu shot. It has four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot and it creates a stronger immune response for better protection. All annual flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.

Td or Tdap Vaccine (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis) (Every 10 Years)

When you were a preteen or teen, you should have gotten the Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines. Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects against three potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Every ten years after getting this Tdap shot, adults are advised to get a booster shot of the tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine. If it’s been ten years since your last Td booster shot, or if you never received the one-time Tdap shot, it’s time to talk to your doctor about getting it.

Shingles Vaccine (Zoster)

To help protect against the painful skin rash, shingles, it is recommended for adults 60 years or older to get the zoster (trade name Zostavax) vaccine. Some people who get the vaccine still get shingles, but it cuts your chances in half. All Medicare Part D drug plans, or Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription drug coverage, typically cover the shingles vaccine. However, there is usually an out-of-pocket cost. Depending on your plan, you will either be responsible for a copayment (fixed dollar amount) or coinsurance (percentage of the vaccine’s cost).

Pneumococcal vaccines

Pneumococcal disease is an infection that can result in pneumonia, infection of the blood (bacteremia/sepsis), middle-ear infection (otitis media), or bacterial meningitis. Studies show that one dose of pneumococcal vaccines protects 75% of adults 65 years or older against invasive pneumococcal disease and 45% of adults in that age group against pneumococcal pneumonia.

There are two pneumococcal vaccines: Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. It’s recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get both at different times. Medicare Part B covers both shots of the pneumococcal vaccine if they are taken at least 11 months apart. If you have Original Medicare, visit a physician or health care provider who accepts Medicare. With Medicare Advantage, you may have to use an in-network doctor or pharmacy.

Talk with your doctor or other healthcare professional to find out which vaccines are recommended for you based on your specific health status, age, and lifestyle. Prepare your body to fight against certain viral and bacterial disease-causing agents before attacks can happen and get vaccinated. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information about vaccines recommended for your age group.

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