Marking World Immunisation Week, Dr Fahad Merchant, Consulting Physician & Diabetologist, Masina Hospital emphasises that vaccines are especially important for older adults due to a weakening immune system which makes it more difficult to fight off infections
Immunisation helps you become immune protected from diseases caused by bacteria or viruses and helps protect others around you. Adults who have a mild form of the disease can pass it to children.
The disease may be more serious in children. Without immunisation, the only way to become immune is to get the disease. This is dangerous because you can develop medical problems from the disease that may be long-term or difficult to treat. Immunisation helps control diseases and prevents them from coming back after they are controlled.
Also as some adults suffer from various diseases like chronic lung disease, chronic liver disease, chronic kidney disease, cancers, diabetes, HIV, etc. which suppresses one’s immune mechanisms, making them more vulnerable to a wide spectrum of infections. There are also adults who smoke excessively, consume excess alcohol or other substances, and some on chemotherapy or radiation therapy or immunosuppressive therapy are all more likely to get infections.
Independent experts and WHO have shown that vaccines are especially important for older adults. As you get older, your immune system weakens and it can be more difficult to fight off infections. You’re more likely to get diseases like the flu, pneumonia, and shingles — and to have complications that can lead to long-term illness, hospitalisation, and even death.
Vaccines are far safer than therapeutic medicines. Modern vaccines have an excellent safety record and most “vaccine scares” have been proven false. We all need vaccines throughout our lives to help protect against serious diseases. They aren’t just for kids but vaccines can help adults stay healthy too, especially during serious health conditions. Vaccines can lower one’s chances of getting certain diseases by working with your body’s natural defence system to help safely develop immunity towards disease.
This lowers chances of getting certain diseases and chances of sufferings from their complications. For eg. hepatitis B vaccine lowers your risk of liver cancer; flu vaccine lowers the risk of flu-related heart attack or other complications from existing health conditions like chronic lung disease and diabetes; HPV vaccine lowers risk of cervical cancer. Vaccines lower your chances of spreading disease among your loved ones. People with weakened immune systems like infants, older adults, those going through cancer treatment are vulnerable to infections.
One may be at risk for vaccine-preventable disease and choice of vaccine recommendation depends on factors such as their age, job, lifestyle, travel or health conditions and vaccines received in the past. The most common vaccines recommended to help them prevent getting and spreading serious diseases could be those against influenza (seasonal flu) vaccine every year. Every adult should get a Tdap vaccine to protect against pertussis (whooping cough). Women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant. Other than these, common vaccines recommended are those against pneumococcal disease, hepatitis A & B, typhoid, human papillomavirus, etc.
Some adults with specific health conditions, because of age or other factors should not get certain vaccines or should wait before getting them. Different vaccines have different components and each vaccine can affect you differently. Individuals with compromised immune systems, ones who have experienced severe allergic reactions to a particular vaccine are generally advised to wait. There are specific guidelines available for each vaccine. One should talk to the respective consulting doctor to make sure they get the vaccines that are right for them.
We are living in unusual times when we need to pay even more careful attention to our health and ensure we reduce the risk of infection in whatever way possible. Vaccination is one such effective way to build immunity and protect ourselves from many preventable infections.