Why Seniors Should Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
COVID-19 vaccines have now been available for a while, but not everyone has availed themselves of the opportunity. Many of the people who have yet to get vaccinated do not understand the safety, effectiveness, and benefits of these shots. Explaining it to them can be tough. Here are some key takeaways to show just how important it is.
Why are Vaccines Important?
COVID-19 is the worst pandemic since the “Spanish” flu (Note: It did not, in fact, originate in Spain.) That pandemic did resolve without vaccines, but not before at least 50 million people died of the virus.
Pandemics fade out when there are no longer enough vulnerable people for them to rapidly spread. In most cases, pandemic diseases then become endemic nuisances (Descendants of the Spanish flu virus are still around as seasonal flu).
The two most recent pandemics that significantly affected the United States were the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and the 1968 flu pandemic. The H1N1 pandemic started in the United States and spread quickly, killing anywhere from 151,000 to 575,400 people worldwide, but not spreading as widely as COVID-19.
In 1968, the pandemic was caused by an avian influenza virus. It killed about 1 million people worldwide, mostly seniors. This virus also still circulates and continues to be associated with severe disease in older people. A vaccine was developed, but too late; by the time it was introduced, the pandemic had already peaked.
With COVID-19 we have found a vaccine before the pandemic peaked and it has significantly reduced the number of deaths even with an imperfect and uneven rollout.
What are the Benefits of Being Vaccinated?
According to Dianne K. Sullivan-Slaziyk, MBA, BSN, RN, our CCO/SVP of Clinical Operations, “Getting the COVID-19 vaccine protects you from getting sick and assists in preventing the spread to your family and the vulnerable seniors whom we serve. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, getting the vaccine is a powerful step in taking charge of your health. The vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the coronavirus if you are exposed to it. The more people who receive the coronavirus vaccines, the sooner vulnerable people can feel safe among others.”
The primary benefit of the COVID-19 vaccine is a substantial reduction in the risk of serious illness or death. While the vaccine does not provide 100% protection from catching COVID or getting symptoms, it will keep you out of the hospital or the morgue.
“The vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the coronavirus if you are exposed to it.” — Dianne K. Sullivan-Slaziyk, CCO/SVP of Clinical Operations, StoneGate Senior Living
Even with the more contagious and slightly vaccine-resistant delta variant (which has become dominant), unvaccinated people are five times more likely to be infected and 25 times more likely to be hospitalized. When vaccinated people are infected, symptoms are much milder, often resembling a bad cold, and they recover faster. While serious breakthrough events are more common in the elderly and immunocompromised, even for seniors, the risk drops substantially.
Vaccinated people are still also less likely to pass the disease on to others, including people who can’t be vaccinated. There’s some early evidence that vaccinated people can transmit delta, but with the lower infection rate and shorter course of the disease, they are much less likely to do so.
Why are Seniors More at Risk from the Virus
Seniors are at higher risk simply because their immune systems are not as good as they used to be. As you age, your immune system becomes slower to respond, especially to a threat it has not seen before. It also loses some of its ability to properly detect viruses.
Another reason is that severe illness with COVID-19 is more likely if you have certain underlying conditions. Specifically, increased risk has been determined if you have:
- Any kind of cancer, partly because many cancer treatments suppress the immune system.
- Chronic kidney disease.
- Any kind of chronic lung disease, including COPD and pulmonary hypertension.
- Dementia or other neurological conditions.
- Down syndrome.
- Heart conditions including congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and possibly hypertension.
- HIV infection.
- Weakened immune system.
- Liver disease.
- Sickle cell disease.
- Having ever smoked.
- Having received a transplant.
- Having had a stroke.
- Substance use disorders.
Some, although not all, of these conditions are more common in older people. Older people are more likely to have COPD, heart conditions, and kidney and liver problems as well as type II diabetes. Because of social changes, older people are more likely to smoke or to have smoked in the past.
Put together, this explains why hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 were more common in seniors. Deaths have become less common, but that is only because so many seniors have already been vaccinated.
Is the Vaccine Enough Protection?
The vaccines we have against COVID-19 are excellent. However, they are not perfect.
Seniors who have been vaccinated should still wear masks at indoor public spaces if community spread is high in their area as well as if they are going to be in a crowded area where others might not be vaccinated, or if they live with somebody who has a weakened immune system or with unvaccinated children.
Seniors who are living in retirement facilities should absolutely mask up in public until the current delta wave has receded.
Seniors should continue to wash their hands and avoid very close contact with others until community spread is down. However, their risk of severe illness is low.
What if Somebody in the Household Won’t Get Vaccinated?
If you live with a younger person who is refusing to get the vaccine, then you should wear a mask in public to avoid bringing COVID back to them.
You should also talk to the unvaccinated person about all the things in this article. Tell them that the vaccine is safe and effective. In some cases, you might have to put social pressure, such as refusing to go to a restaurant with them.
If you are the younger person living with a senior, you should get vaccinated as soon as you can. Although it won’t completely prevent you from giving them the virus, it will greatly reduce the risk.
How Can I Get the Shots?
For the duration of the pandemic emergency, all COVID-19 vaccines are free. They have already been paid for by the government. In some cases, the provider might bill your insurer for an administration fee, but they cannot bill you for one.
NOTE: Vaccines.gov makes it easy to find COVID-19 vaccination sites. The vaccines are free and available to anyone who wants one.
You can get your [free] COVID-19 vaccine at any pharmacist locations or through your doctor. In addition, there are pop-up vaccination clinics, and you should check with local public health.
StoneGate facilities are also providing vaccines for our employees and residents. Contact us today to find out more about how we offer quality independent and assisted living for you or your loved one.