Vaccines & the Elderly: Should You Be Worried About the Measles?

A patient receiving an immunization

With measles outbreaks in the United States growing by the day, you may be wondering if your elderly parent is in danger. Interestingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines are only necessary for people born in 1957 or later. So, if your parents are 62 years old or younger, you should check whether they are up to date on their MMR shots. I asked my 90-year old Mom recently whether she had the measles as a child and her rather humorous response was: "Oh yes, I had everything going when I was young."

Although measles may not be a reason to stay up at night with regard to your parents' health, there are other vaccines that people ages 65 and older should receive. These include:

  • An annual flu shot. The CDC advises that seniors get either an influenza inactivated (IIV) or influenza recombinant (RIV) vaccine. In the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC reported that 4,342 people age 65 and older died from the flu.

  • Pneumonia vaccine. There are two recommended pneumonia vaccines – each is a single dose. These are the pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23). During the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC reported that 84,855 people aged 65 and older died from pneumonia.

  • Tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis vaccine. This vaccine is sometimes referred to as Tdap or Td. All adults 19 years and older should get 1 dose of a Tdap vaccine and then a Td booster every 10 years.

  • Shingles vaccine. According to the CDC, preferred vaccine is the two-dose Zoster recombinant (RZV) treatment. A one dose Zoster live (ZVL) vaccine is also available and an alternative if RZV isn't available.

If your parent has health issues or a compromised immune system, his or her physician may recommend other vaccines, so it's worth a conversation. As a caregiver, you should also take care to get vaccinated yourself. Check out the CDC recommendations for your age group. With caregiving responsibilities on your plate, the last thing you need is to get sick. In addition, when you stay healthy, you are less likely to pass on unwanted illnesses to your parents, other family members, and the community at large.

If you fall into the anti-vaxxer camp, I don't know what to say, other than to share a quote from the Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The New York Times’ "The Ethicist" column:  "Anti-vaxxers have the epistemological equivalent of a drug-resistant infection; the condition is stubbornly unresponsive to treatment."

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