The Savvy Senior
I recently read that there are a variety of vaccinations that can help protect seniors. Can you tell me what they are and what Medicare pays for?
Most people think that vaccinations are just for kids, but adults, especially seniors, need their shots, too. Here's what you should know.
Roll Up Your Sleeve
Outside of eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, not smoking and undergoing routine health screenings, the best way to prevent illness and stay healthy as you age is to keep up with your vaccinations. But far too few seniors are taking advantage of these important vaccines, usually because they aren't aware of them, they are afraid to get them or they don't have the funds to pay for them. Here is a list of the different vaccines seniors need, and how they work with Medicare.
• Flu (influenza) vaccine. This is the one vaccination seniors are pretty good about--69 percent get an annual shot. While it's recommended that almost everyone should get a flu shot every fall, it's especially important for seniors age 65 and older because they are at high risk for complications. Medicare Part B pays for flu shots but if you're not covered, there are plenty of places that offer them for free. To locate a vaccination site, call your county health department or the CDC information line at 800- 232-4636 or visit www.flucliniclocator.org starting in September. (Note: people who are allergic to eggs and/or latex, who have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, or who have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past should not get a flu shot without consulting their doctor first. And people who are ill with a fever should wait until their symptoms pass to get vaccinated.)
• Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine. Pneumonia causes around 60,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, many of which could have been prevented by this vaccine. Everyone age 65 or older should get this one-time vaccination, and for those covered under Medicare Part B, it's free.
• Shingles vaccine. Recommended for everyone age 60 and older. So far, only about 2 percent of seniors have received this vaccine since it became available in 2006. Shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than a million Americans each year. While this vaccine isn't perfect, it does cut your risk of getting shingles in half, and if you do get it you'll have a much milder case. Medicare pays for this vaccine only if you have a Part D prescription drug plan. If you aren't covered, you can expect to pay between $150 and $250 for the shot.
•Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. The CDC recommends a combined tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine for all adults aged 64 or younger whose last tetanus-diphtheria booster shot was at least 10 years ago. Whooping cough, the CDC warns, is making a comeback in seniors because childhood vaccinations (if you had one) have worn off. However, if you are 65 or older, get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot instead of the 3-in-1 Tdap vaccine. Neither vaccine is covered by Medicare, but typically costs under $75.
Savvy Tips: Other vaccinations may be recommended, depending on where you live, your health, lifestyle and if you plan to travel internationally. To learn more about vaccines for adults and identify which ones you need, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines, click on "For Specific Groups of People" and take their adult quiz. The Mayo Clinic also offers a list of vaccines on their Web site (www.mayoclinic. com/health/vaccines/ID00016) that explains what you should get and when you should get it. And, as always, be sure to talk to your doctor about your findings.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.
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