Even as older adults await the coronavirus vaccine, many are skipping the standard ones. That’s not wise, health experts say.
Peggy Stein, 68, a retired teacher in Berkeley, Calif., skipped a flu shot this year. Her reasoning: “How could I get the flu if I’m being so incredibly careful because of Covid?”
Karen Freeman, 74, keeps meaning to be vaccinated against shingles, but hasn’t done so. A retired college administrator in St. Louis, she quipped that “denial has worked well for me these many years.”
Sheila Blais, who lives on a farm in West Hebron, N.Y., has never received any adult vaccine. She also has never contracted the flu. “I’m such an introvert I barely leave the farm, so where’s my exposure?” said Ms. Blais, 66, a fiber artist. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
While older adults await vaccination against Covid-19, public health officials also worry about their forgoing, forgetting, fearing or simply not knowing about those other vaccines — the ones recommended for adults as we age and our immune systems weaken.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” said Dr. Ram Koppaka, associate director for adult immunization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Every year, campaigns urge older adults to protect themselves against preventable infectious diseases. After all, influenza alone has killed 12,000 to 61,000 Americans annually over the past decade, most of them 65 or older, and has sent 140,000 to 810,000 people a year to hospitals.
The coronavirus pandemic has introduced another imperative. Those hospitals are filling fast with Covid-19 patients; in many places they are already swamped, their staffs overworked and exhausted.
“Knowing how stressed the health care system is, prevention is key,” said Dr. Nadine Rouphael, a vaccine researcher and infectious disease specialist at Emory University. “When we have record numbers of deaths, why would you go to a hospital for a vaccine-preventable illness?”
Yet the nation has long done a better job of vaccinating its children than its elders. The most recent statistics, from 2017, show that about one-third of adults over 65 had not received a flu shot within the past year.