2021 is looking up thanks to the new COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. These vaccines have proven to be highly effective and are already being distributed around the world. In the US, many states have declared that essential workers and seniors are first priority to receive the vaccine. But even with FDA approval and encouragement from state governments, some families may still consider the vaccine to be too risky and many may be questioning whether they should get the vaccine or not. In this post, we will discuss questions to consider about the vaccine and how it can affect older adults so that you and your loved ones can make an informed decision.
How Does the Vaccine Work?
Let’s start with the basics of how the vaccine helps fight COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine works by delivering instructions to the body’s immune system to fight the virus. This allows cells to know how to fight the virus if the body does become exposed.
You can think of the vaccine like a Snapchat for your immune system. The vaccine contains a message with instructions on fighting the virus. The body reads the message, and then the vaccine is destroyed in the body and disappears. However, the body remembers the enclosed instructions and starts producing specific cells that will remember how to fight the virus in the future.
This type of vaccine is unlike other vaccines that contain a live version of the virus or infection that it is trying to prevent. Those vaccines, called vector vaccines, include smallpox, chickenpox, and others. Because the COVID-19 vaccine does not rely on this type of system, you don’t have to worry about your loved one contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine because there is no live virus in it.
Where Does Your Loved One Live?
When considering whether or not your loved one should get the vaccine, you should think about where they live. Seniors have been hit hard by COVID-19 due to chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems. In fact, 95.3% of deaths from the virus have occurred in individuals 50 years and older. But where a senior lives is a contributor for their risk of contracting COVID-19.
Seniors who live in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes or assisted living communities, are at higher risk than seniors who live at home because they are in close contact with many other individuals on a regular basis. As we saw during the pandemic, the virus can spread quickly through these facilities due to the close contact. Additionally, seniors living in these facilities may have multiple chronic conditions that could put them at higher risk of complications if they do contract the vaccine, which we will discuss next.
Therefore, if your loved one lives in a senior community, you may want to especially encourage them to get the vaccine when it becomes available to them to reduce their risk.
How Is Their Health?
Some seniors are at a higher risk than others for developing serious complications from COVID-19 than others due to their underlying health conditions. For example, seniors with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease are most vulnerable and may contract a severe case of COVID-19. They may experience severe symptoms and take longer to fight off the virus; they are also more likely to pass away due to the virus. If your aging loved one has underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, you may want to encourage them to get the vaccine to help them remain healthy.
What About Side Effects?
Common side effects reported from both vaccines include swelling or pain at the site of infection, fatigue, fever, or headache. These side effects seem to be consistent with other vaccines that have been out for years. For many, the side effects of the vaccine are worth the risk compared to potential symptoms of the virus.
However, because the vaccines were developed and tested quickly, no one can be fully sure of long-term effects. But doctors remain confident that the vaccine is safe and can lead to better long-term health effects for everyone. So far, there has been no evidence that the vaccine can cause long-term effects. And doctors continue to study the vaccine for additional effects.
Because of the potential risks of both short- and long-term side effects, 1 in 5 seniors reported in a University of Michigan survey that they would want to be vaccinated right away while about half said they would get the vaccine if it were given to others first. However, for the vaccine to be effective at getting rid of COVID-19, we would need about 90% of the total population to get immunized. Waiting to get a vaccine could delay the US achieving that benchmark, causing COVID-19 to continue affecting everyday life.
While the decision to get the vaccine or not is a personal one, we recommend that seniors receive the vaccine to help them maintain their quality of life — especially seniors with multiple chronic conditions or who live in a senior living facility. This vaccine can help seniors remain comfortable throughout the rest of their life and avoid living in fear of contracting the virus. It could even help your loved one from potentially losing their life to this virus, giving you more time and memories with your grandparent or loved one.
For many, this peace of mind seems to outweigh potential risks of the vaccine. However, we know that every senior’s circumstance is different, so they should consider their options with their family and healthcare provider.
To learn more about how Caring Senior Service is responding to virus outbreak, refer to our COVID-19 page.