Vaccination rates are lagging in older Americans, according to a new study, which calls for stronger measures to ensure that aging adults remain free of preventable diseases. The paper, released Thursday by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Alliance for Aging Research, also looked into factors that led to lower vaccination rates among people 65 years of age or older, and offered recommendations to public health and industry officials.
Vaccines for diseases like influenza, pneumococcal, tetanus and shingles are routinely recommended to older adults, but the rate of vaccination was found to be much lower in that population than the targets laid out in the U.S. government’s Healthy People 2020 Initiative.
The report warned that the underutilization of these vaccines, which are generally cost-effective and easily available under health insurance schemes, exacerbates a serious public health issue among the American public. Each year, about 5 million to 10 million Americans get pneumonia, 35 million to 50 million get influenza, and 1 million suffer from shingles. However, these diseases are significantly more likely to afflict older Americans, and cause health complications and death among them.
The U.S. government's target rates for vaccination among people over 65 for both influenza and pneumococcal are 90 percent, and 30 percent for shingles. However, the paper found that current vaccination rates among older Americans are below 70 percent for both influenza and pneumococcal, and about 20 percent for shingles.
"Vaccinations are available for many of the most common and deadly infectious diseases in older Americans and can save countless lives and health care dollars," Susan Peschin, president and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research, said in a press release. "Unfortunately, vaccination rates in seniors fall far short of target rates recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We think that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit ... that would increase utilization and improve public health for older adults."
The paper recommends targeting older adults, in particular through educational initiatives, and encouraging retail pharmacies and clinics to more aggressively promote the vaccine for shingles. On a state level, it called for governments to allow pharmacists to administer tetanus vaccines.
The study also identified the barriers that prevented older adults from being vaccinated, including lack of education and financial resources, and inadequate health care facilities.