Immunization is by far the most effective way to keep people healthy while reducing burden on our healthcare system. In fact, vaccines have saved more lives worldwide than any other medical intervention in history. It is estimated that vaccinations save up to three million lives around the world each year.
While everyone knows about the flu shot and coughing into your sleeve to avoid spread, there are some things you may not know about vaccines for adults.
1. There are 3 main vaccine-preventable diseases threatening older adults in Canada
Seasonal flu, shingles, and pneumonia (known in medical circles as “The Big 3” preventable diseases) are the three common diseases that pose the greatest risk annually to older people. Fortunately, there are senior-specific vaccines for them that are proven to offer the best possible protection. Unfortunately, the vast majority of older Canadians can’t get them due to insufficient funding coverage and lack of access.
2. Older Canadians are under-vaccinated against ‘The Big 3’
It’s estimated that only 1 in 3 adults is up to date with their routine vaccinations. CanAge’s Cross-Country Vaccine Report Card exposes many factors that contribute to this uncomfortable fact, including lack of access to vaccines, lack of awareness of what is available, and lack of funding in most jurisdictions.
3. Canada doesn’t follow its own advice when it comes to vaccines
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) makes recommendations for the use of vaccines currently or newly approved for use. However, few provinces or territories adhere to NACI recommendations when it comes to vaccinations for the flu, shingles, and pneumonia. For example, the newer and more effective shingles vaccine — recommended by NACI for adults aged 50 and older — is only available at no cost to seniors in the Yukon, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Senior-specific flu shots, recommended for people 65 and older, are only fully funded in 6 jurisdictions (others only fund it for residents in long-term care). Because health care is managed independently by provinces and territories, those governments make their own decisions about which vaccines will – and what will not – be funded.
4. There is a flu shot made specifically for seniors
Access to the senior-specific flu shot is severely limited, but the vaccine does exist (there are several different formulas available and each province/territory chooses what to offer). It is only publicly funded for all adults aged 65+, no matter where they live, in five provinces and one territory: Alberta, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and Yukon. The Government of Saskatchewan just announced expanded funding in its new 2022-23 budget. In other jurisdictions, older adults can access the senior-specific flu vaccine only if they live in a long-term care setting (excluding Nunavut, where findings were inconclusive).
5. Vaccines are effective and safe
According to Immunize Canada, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide 100 years ago. In Canada, they now cause less than 5% of all deaths – thanks in large part to immunization programs. While some infectious diseases have been eradicated, the bacteria and viruses still exist. The importance and efficacy of vaccines cannot be sufficiently underscored. Vaccines will not cause you to get the disease you’re being inoculated against. Reactions are extremely rare.
6. Homeopathic options are not safe replacements for vaccines
Homeopathic doses should not be considered as alternatives to immunizations. They have not been approved by Health Canada. They are not prepared to the same rigorous standards that medicinal vaccines are, and they will not protect you from getting seriously sick.
7. People might still get sick even when vaccinated
This is rare, but true. Symptoms will be much milder, and the disease will pass more quickly than it would for someone who was not vaccinated.
8. You don’t need to get every vaccine every year
When it comes to vaccinating against The Big 3, timing is everything. The flu shot is single-dose and you need to get it every year. They become available usually in October, just before the onset of flu season. The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended as a one time dose for adults aged 65 and older; it is also available to younger people who are immunocompromised. The shingles vaccine is recommended once for adults aged 65 and older, and is taken in 2 doses 2 to 6 months apart.
The best way to make sure you get the right shots at the right time is to talk to your doctor and download the official immunization schedule for adults.
9. Vaccines don’t cause autism
A 1998 study (which examined only 12 children) that suggested the MMR vaccine caused autism was disproven in 2011, and the lead investigator’s medical license was revoked. The study was declared a deliberate fraud, as the researcher had been financially compensated by a lawyer to link the MMR vaccine to autism.
10. Vaccines help create herd immunity
Herd immunity occurs when most people in a community have been vaccinated against a disease. The result is that an unvaccinated person is unlikely to get sick, since there is no disease to spread.
The more you know about vaccines, the safer you’ll be. To learn more about the state of vaccinations in Canada, read CanAge’s latest 2022 Cross-Country Vaccine Report Card.
To keep up to date on the latest information about vaccine-related issues affecting older Canadians, become a free CanAge member!