Vaccines Are One of Our Best Shots for Healthy Aging
Aging well is more than simply celebrating more birthdays. To most of us, aging well means living more years in good health and well-being. The Alliance for Aging Research is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people live longer, healthier lives.
We at the Alliance recognize that an essential part of healthy aging is prevention. Vaccines are an easy way to prevent serious infectious diseases that lead to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year, and cause millions of people to lose time with families, at work, and tending to other important responsibilities. Vaccines have also saved millions of lives.
Americans seem to realize the value of vaccines to community health. A May 2018 public opinion survey from Research!America and the American Society for Microbiology found that 70% of Americans think vaccines are very important to the health of our society. Although notably, that number is down from 80% in November 2008.
But this knowledge isn’t leading to action. Despite the effectiveness of vaccines, and the devastating effects that vaccine-preventable diseases can have on older adults, adult vaccination rates in the United States are dangerously low and fall short of national targets. This is in part due to a common misconception that vaccines are mainly for kids. In reality, all adults should be vaccinated to protect their health and the health of their loved ones. Unfortunately, in recent years, misinformation and rumors about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines has also been increasing—creating fear and doubt that has had serious consequences. Even for those eager to get their vaccines, there can be issues with access and payment.
In an effort to debunk myths and educate older adults about vaccines, the Alliance leads the Our Best Shot campaign. This awareness campaign encourages older adults to schedule their Medicare prevention visits, share the facts about vaccines, and get vaccinated themselves. It also provides all of the resources that community health leaders need to put on educational events for their members and audiences.
The campaign emphasizes Medicare preventive visits as great opportunities to make sure older adults are up-to-date on important screenings and vaccines, talk with them about their family history, and make a plan for them to stay healthy. We also know that many older adults remember what times were like before vaccines existed for people with serious infectious diseases such as polio. The campaign empowers them to play an influential role in their families and social circles by spreading the truth about vaccines.
So, this Healthy Aging Month, as we consider ways to stay healthy and happy, the Alliance encourages everyone to put vaccination at the top of their list.
Lindsay Clarke, JD, is Vice President of Health Programs at the Alliance for Aging Research.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccination Coverage Among Adults in the United States, National Health Interview Survey, 2015. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/coverage/adultvaxview/coverage-estimates/2015.html. Last accessed 9/6/18.