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Vaccines Are for All Seasons

April 18, 2018

Influenza is seasonal, but immunizations should not be.

The latest flu season was the worst in a decade, with the vaccine being only 25 percent effective against the most common strain. Despite this, millions of Americans understood that getting a flu shot was vital.

After seeing friends and coworkers struck down with flu, my wife, Billie, and I realized that even a 25 percent chance of immunity seemed well worth getting a shot. In other years when the vaccine performs better, it is even more of a no-brainer. Everywhere you go during flu season, there are reminders about flu vaccines. While awareness of flu immunization is relatively strong, too many Americans now believe that vaccination is seasonal.

Too many Americans also think that immunization is something just for children. Too many Americans fail to realize what they need to do to protect themselves and their families.

Elderly Americans are of particular concern. Many were vaccinated against serious illnesses in their youth, and when you are immune to scourges like smallpox or polio, it can be easy to overlook something like shingles. But it doesn’t take much to upset the health equilibrium and immune systems of older individuals, particularly those who may have chronic conditions or other underlying health problems. Vaccine preventable diseases like shingles, pneumonia and flu cause immense suffering, loss of quality of life, and even death among this nation’s elderly. Older Americans must realize that vaccination is an ongoing process, and immunity to some deadly diseases does not remove the need for future immunization.

We must also fight another misconception – that immunization is only for children. Vaccines for children are vital and tend to dominate the news on the subject, but they must not overshadow the need to vaccinate older Americans. We must do more to further the narrative that you never outgrow vaccines — they are needed across your lifetime and across the seasons.

As flu season winds down, it is a perfect time to remind all Americans, particularly those of us over 65, of the importance of keeping all our immunizations current. It cannot simply be get a flu shot and you’re done. Americans must be educated about the lifelong and yearlong need for vaccinations, and the wide range of diseases that are ultimately preventable. Fortunately for us, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plays an essential role in educating the public about the importance of vaccination – across the lifespan and the seasons.