The elderly are particularly at risk of viruses and infections because our immune systems slowly weaken as we age. A dose of the flu for a senior can be long-lasting, lead to serious secondary infections such as pneumonia or other serious respiratory diseases or even result in death. In fact, the majority of deaths from influenza occur in those aged 65 and older. It’s essential that the elderly keep up-to-date with their immunisation schedules and that carers understand the latest immunisation requirements.
Below is information regarding the elderly and immunisation, including the changes in the 2015 flu vaccination program and the introduction of the new Quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccination.
Free influenza vaccines for the elderly
Elderly Victorians, aged 65 and over, are eligible for free government-supplied seasonal flu vaccines as long as they meet the government criteria (you can find out if you are eligible here).
Eligible residents of aged care facilities or long-term residential care facilities can benefit from the government-funded flu vaccine scheme. It’s important to note, however, that even if an individual is eligible for a free vaccination, they may still be charged a consultation fee depending on the medical clinic
The flu vaccination: an annual event
Current flu vaccinations offer immune protection for about a year. There may be some longer lasting low levels of protection if the current strains of flu remain in the community. However, it’s recommended that the elderly have annual vaccinations unless they are immunocompromised or have contraindicated health concerns.
2015’s Trivalent & Quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine
This year is the first time that Australians can choose to be protected by the Quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine. In the past, only the Trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) was available. A Quadrivalent vaccine protects against four different flu viruses; two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. A TIV protects against two different strains of influenza A and one strain of B virus.
Understandably, those who have received the TIV have been feeling a little put out, and wondering whether they should return for a Quadrivalent vaccine for extra cover. Theoretically, this concern is valid. However, last year in the US, the extra flu strain contained in the Quadrivalent vaccine accounted for less than 2% of reported flu cases. The advantage of being covered for this strain in Australia is dependent on how widely this particular virus circulates this winter. So far, there is no clinical trial evidence to indicate that the new vaccine is superior to the TIV (although that would be expected as it is only early days).
To conclude, the Australian Government is not recommending that individuals who have already received the Trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) now receive the new Quadrivalent vaccine.
Efficacy and effectiveness of flu vaccination
The efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines depend on the individual receiving the vaccine. Generally speaking, those younger than 65 years of age receive an overall protection against the virus of 59%, although this varies depending on the flu season. For individuals over the age of 65, the efficacy of the vaccine is estimated to be 43% when viral circulation is at its peak.
Other Vaccines Available for the Elderly
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and older are at high risk of developing not only the flu but pneumococcal disease and it’s complications, which can lead to death. Some of our Australian Aboriginal communities have the highest incidences of invasive pneumococcal disease in the world. Therefore, indigenous people over this age are eligible for a free pneumococcal vaccine (PNEUMOVAX 23) to help ward off pneumonia, meningitis and other serious bacterial infections. Non-indigenous Australians over the age of 65 are also eligible for free immunisation.
The herpes zoster or shingles vaccine is an important vaccination for those who have ever had chickenpox in their lifetime and are over the age of 50. However, this vaccination is not free.
All individuals should have a tetanus booster every ten years. Again, this vaccination is not free.
In addition to the above, individuals aged over 65 years may need to have vaccinations for whooping cough and diphtheria.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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