Keeping up on vaccinations is important for anyone regardless of age, but in the case of the elderly, it is even more so due to a process called immunosenescence, ie, immune aging that is associated with changes in immune function.
In other words, the immune system can be more susceptible to infections, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and there is a reduction in the vaccine response.
An elderly person’s body tolerates less stress than a young person’s body, takes longer to recover, and may have more complications.
An example: a grandson with the flu transmits the flu virus to his unvaccinated grandfather. Due to changes in their immune system, this elderly person can suffer more serious complications, such as viral pneumonia, which can further develop into bacterial pneumonia.
When hospitalized, the elderly may lose muscle mass and become fragile. He will need rehabilitation and may take time to reach the state before the contamination resulting from contact with his grandson.
It is worth emphasizing that healthy aging includes more than having good eating habits, practicing regular activities, not smoking or drinking alcohol in excess. In fact, all this contributes to a longer life with more quality, but taking care of the immunization is also essential.
Next, three experts list five diseases that are dangerous to the old and old, but which vaccines protect.
Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus, transmitted through the aspiration of droplets released during sneezing, coughing, while talking to contaminated people, or by touching contaminated surfaces and holding hands over the eyes, mouth and nose. The main symptoms are fever, chills, headache, dry cough, muscle pain, tiredness and lack of appetite.
In general, flu has a benign and self-limited evolution, that is, it goes without specific treatment in a few days. However, it is possible to have complications, which are more common in extremes of age (very young or very old) and individuals with some clinical conditions, such as chronic pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, immunodeficiency or immunodepression, among others. The most common pulmonary complications are viral and bacterial pneumonias.
Vaccines consist of inactivated and fragmented viruses, therefore, with no risk of infecting the patient. They induce the formation of antibodies that will fight the virus when the body becomes infected.
The influenza virus has a high mutation rate, so vaccination must be annual. It is the most effective measure to prevent the flu, however, it is noteworthy that even a vaccinated individual can be affected, but the condition tends to be milder, because immunization reduces the risk of complications, hospitalizations and death.
Pneumonia is an infection that settles in the lungs and can be caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. One of the bacteria most related to pneumonia is pneumococcus, also called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It is more common at the extremes of life, in children under 2 and over 65.
Compared to healthy adults, people with heart disease, chronic lung disease or diabetes mellitus have a three to six times greater risk of being affected by pneumonia.
There are three types of vaccine against the Streptococcus Pneumoniae: the 23-valent polysaccharide vaccine (VPP23), which acts against 23 types of this bacteria; the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (VPC13), which acts against 13 types; and the 10-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (VPC10), which acts against 10. In the case of the elderly, those indicated are VPP23 and VPC13.
Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system through vaccine antigens to produce antibodies against these agents, so that in the event of possible contact with them, prevent the person from becoming ill or developing a serious illness. Diseases caused by pneumococcus are the main causes of morbidity and mortality (risk of complications and death) worldwide in all age groups.
Herpes zoster is a disease caused by the same virus as chickenpox or chickenpox in children. Chickenpox occurs most often in childhood and results from the primary infection. Herpes zoster, on the other hand, is more common in the elderly, and originates from the reactivation of the virus after the first occurrence of chickenpox.
Several conditions are associated with the appearance of herpes zoster, such as low immunity, cancer, local trauma, spinal surgeries and frontal sinusitis.
The frequency of cases is increasing due to the increase in life expectancy almost all over the world. It is estimated that 10% to 20% of the global population will have the disease, reaching 50% among those who reach 85 years of age.
More than two thirds of cases are registered after the age of 50 years. And it is precisely in older age groups that post-herpetic neuralgia occurs more frequently —inflammation of the nerve that remains in the supplied skin even after the infection ends—in which pain can persist for months or even years.
The vaccine is indicated for people over 50 years of age and acts to stimulate the immune system to produce neutralizing antibodies against the multiplication of this virus in the body of the person receiving the dose.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver, causing mild, moderate or severe changes. Most of the time they are silent infections, that is, they do not have symptoms. However, when present, they can manifest as tiredness, fever, malaise, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, yellow skin and eyes, dark urine, and pale stools.
In Brazil, the most common viral hepatitis are caused by viruses A, B and C. The advance of the infection compromises the liver, causing advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis, which can lead to the development of cancer and the need for organ transplantation. In adults and the elderly, hepatitis A can be severe and symptomatic.
Vaccines are important because they promote neutralizing antibodies and help prevent illness with the evolution of a chronic and potentially lethal disease.
Pertussis is an acute and transmissible infectious disease that compromises the respiratory system, trachea and bronchi. It is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.
There is no single vaccine against pertussis. A vaccine called dTpa (adult-type triple acellular bacterial) that combined helps protect against some diseases, such as whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus. It is recommended just after the 20th week of pregnancy, when the mother will transmit antibodies to her baby while still in the womb.
When born, the child receives the doses at the indicated ages. In adults, it is indicated for all health professionals and close contacts of newborns, such as grandparents, unvaccinated siblings and caregivers.
Pertussis is a serious disease, vaccine-preventable by vaccine that can lead the patient to hospitalization in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) or even kill.
It is important to emphasize that, with the exception of the flu vaccine, all the others mentioned are only available to the elderly in private vaccination services. The SBIm (Brazilian Society of Immunizations) has a calendar of vaccinations indicated for the elderly on its website, it is worth checking it out: https://familia.sbim.org.br/seu-calendario/idoso.
Sources: Lorena de Castro Diniz, coordinator of the Scientific Department of Immunization at Asbai (Brazilian Association of Allergy and Immunology); Mateus da Costa Machado Rios, immunologist at the clinical immunology service of the Hospital das Clínicas at UFPE (Federal University of Pernambuco) and member of the Scientific Department of Allergy and Immunity in the Elderly of Asbai; and Maurício de Miranda Ventura, director of the geriatrics service at the State Civil Servant Hospital (SP) and president of the SBGG (Brazilian Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology), São Paulo section.