Let’s Remind People of All Ages to Get Their Vaccinations

Think of an older adult that you know who has diabetes, lung disease, or heart disease. In the midst of managing medication, diet, exercise, and stress, it’s hard to imagine adding one more thing to the checklist required to maintain their health. But for older adults with chronic conditions, vaccines are critical.

Throughout National Immunization Awareness Month in August, we celebrate successes and highlight challenges with immunizing the U.S. population. GSA has chosen to focus on older adults with chronic conditions in particular, due to the serious complications that vaccine-preventable diseases present, including long-term illness, hospitalization, and even death.

People with heart disease, for instance, or those who have had a stroke, are at three times higher risk of being hospitalized with the flu than those without heart disease. They are also at risk of serious medical complications from the flu, including worsening of their heart disease. Adults with COPD and asthma already have difficulty breathing, but the flu can cause airways to swell and become blocked with mucus, which can lead to difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and other serious respiratory illnesses.

Even those with well-managed diabetes can find it harder to fight infections. Adults with diabetes are at increased risk for death from pneumonia, bacteremia (blood infection), and meningitis. They also have higher rates of hepatitis B, so there is a need for particular emphasis on the hepatitis B vaccine in this population. Outbreaks of hepatitis B associated with blood glucose monitoring procedures have been well documented among people with diabetes.

We all want to protect our patients and loved ones from health threats, especially those as serious as those named above. Luckily, vaccination against influenza, Tdap, pneumococcal, zoster, and hepatitis B is a safe and effective way to do so. It’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, and groups like the American Lung Association who advocate for people with chronic conditions. Despite these recommendations, rates remain below benchmarks for every adult vaccine, and racial disparities persist.

GSA’s National Adult Vaccination Program provides resources to help communicate about the science and safety of vaccines. And our Immunization Champions, Advocates, and Mentors Program (ICAMP) is hosting four trainings in September, October, and November to help health professionals learn about proven strategies for increasing adult immunization rates and change management techniques to help apply those strategies in their practices. We encourage you to attend one!

And if you can’t attend a training, remember that older adult with a chronic condition that you thought about earlier and ask them to check with their health provider to make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccines.