Southern District Health Board (SDHB) is promoting the importance of immunisation throughout one’s life, including shingles and influenza immunisation for those aged 65 and older, and immunisation for all pregnant women.
SDHB medical officer of health Dr Keith Reid says that as people got older, their protection from earlier immunisations could begin to wear off. Their immune system may also no longer work as well, and they become more vulnerable to diseases that can be prevented through immunisation, particularly influenza, shingles and tetanus.
Invercargill man Allan Reynolds (73) and his wife Pam (72) have been getting immunised against the flu every year since they turned 65 and they jumped at the chance to get the shingles immunisation for the first time this year. Both had chickenpox as children and, in his 20s, Mr Reynolds suffered from shingles. He thought once he had shingles, he would not get it again.
“But the nurse said ‘no, you can get them again once you get older’, so I decided to go ahead and get immunised.”
Mr Reynolds says it was painful when he had shingles in his younger years.
“When you’re older you’re probably not able to handle it as well. It’s not a pleasant sort of thing to deal with – definitely get immunised.”
Mr Reynolds has diabetes and his doctor recommended he get the yearly flu shot once he turned 65. “I’m pleased I do that every year.”
Immunisation is also important during pregnancy. Dr Reid says whooping cough is a serious disease for young babies, and immunising a pregnant woman means her immunity will be passed to her baby, providing protection until the baby is old enough to be immunised.
“Whooping cough spreads easily through coughing and sneezing, and we are currently experiencing a national outbreak of the disease. Since the beginning of 2018, more than a thousand cases of whooping cough have been notified to the Ministry of Health and 72 people, including 31 babies, have been hospitalised.”
Recommended vaccines for people over 65
- Influenza immunisation is free for those aged 65 and older and is recommended every year. Influenza is a serious illness, particularly if you are older or have an underlying medical condition. (Influenza immunisation is free for people of any age with chronic conditions.)
- Shingles immunisation is now free at age 65, and until 31 March 2020, anyone aged 66 to 80 is also eligible for a free dose of the vaccine. Shingles is a painful rash that lasts from 10 to 15 days, although nerve pain can last long after the rash disappears.
- The free combined tetanus and diphtheria immunisation is recommended at ages 45 and 65 (there may be an administration fee). Tetanus is a serious infection causing muscle stiffness, painful spasms and sometimes death.
Recommended vaccines for pregnant women
- Whooping cough immunisation is free to any woman who is between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant. Babies who are sick with whooping cough may not be able to feed or breathe properly. They can become very ill and may need to be cared for in hospital.
- Influenza immunisation is free for pregnant women at any stage during influenza season (late autumn and winter).
People should talk to their practice nurse, family doctor or vaccinating pharmacist about getting protected.
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