Gaps Remain in Recommended Vaccines for Older Americans

Megan Brooks

June 28, 2017

Two thirds of older Americans have never had a shingles vaccine, and close to half haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years, according to a data brief released today by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rates of coverage with influenza and pneumococcal vaccine are better but gaps remain, report NCHS researchers Tina Norris, PhD, and colleagues.

In 2015, more than 47 million people in the United States were aged 65 years and older. Because older adults are at increased risk for complications from vaccine-preventable infections, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends influenza vaccination, two doses of pneumococcal vaccine, one dose of shingles vaccine, and a tetanus booster every 10 years.

An analysis of data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey suggests room for improvement in coverage rates. 

Among adults aged 65 years and older, 69% had received an influenza vaccine in the past year, with rates slightly higher in men (70%) than women (68%). Influenza vaccination coverage increased from 67% among adults aged 65 to 74 years, to 72% for those 75 to 84 years, and 73% for those 85 years and older.

For pneumococcal vaccine, 64% of elderly women and 63% of elderly men ever had the vaccine. Pneumococcal vaccination increased from 61% for those aged 65 to 74 years to almost 69% among those aged 75 to 84 years. The rate was 68% in those 85 years and older. 

For tetanus, the data show that 57% of adults in the 65 or older bracket had a tetanus vaccine in the past 10 years, with rates higher in men (61%) than women (54%). Tetanus vaccine coverage decreased with advancing age, from 61% in adults aged 65 to 74 years to 48% in those aged 85 years and older.

As for shingles, only 34% of adults aged 65 and older have ever had a shingles vaccine, with rates a bit higher in women (36%) than men (32%).  Shingles vaccine coverage decreased with advancing age, from 36% in adults aged 65 to 74 years to 29% among those 85 years and older.

For all of these vaccines, non-Hispanic whites were more apt to get them than were other racial and ethnic groups, and coverage was positively associated with family income.

Taken together, the data show that "gaps remain" in vaccine coverage among older adults in the United States, Dr Norris and colleagues say.

As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, a recent study found that unvaccinated adults took a toll on the US economy to the tune of $7.1 billion in 2015: 80% of a total cost-of-illness burden of $8.95 billion for vaccine-preventable diseases.

NCHS Data Brief  Published online June 28, 2017. Full text

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