Dear Savvy Senior,
I just turned 65 and would like to find out what types of vaccinations are recommended to Medicare beneficiaries, and how they are covered.
Most people think that vaccinations are just for kids, but adults, especially seniors who tend to have weaker immune systems, need their shots too. Here's a rundown of what vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for seniors 65 and older, and how they're covered by Medicare.
Flu (Influenza): While you probably already know that flu shots are recommended every fall to all seniors, you may not know that those over 65 also have the option of getting a high-dose flu vaccine instead of a regular flu shot. This vaccine -- known as the Fluzone High-Dose -- has four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. All annual flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.
Td/Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis): A one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended to all adults. If you've already had a Tdap shot, you should return to getting a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.
Pneumococcal: This vaccine protects against pneumonia, which kills about 50,000 Americans each year. It's now recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get two separate vaccines -- Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 -- at different times. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are taken at least 11 months apart.
Shingles (zoster): Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than 1 million Americans each year. All people over age 60 should get the Zostavax vaccine, even if they've had shingles before. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover this one-time vaccination, but coverage amounts and reimbursement rules vary depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.
Varicella (chickenpox): If you've never had the chicken pox, this two-dose vaccine (called Varivax) is recommended to adults, and is also covered by Medicare Part D plans.
Hepatitis A: This is a two-dose series of shots recommended to adults that have chronic liver disease, a clotting-factor disorder, have same-sex male partners, illicit injectable drug use, or who have close contact with a hepatitis A-infected individual or who travel to areas with a high incidence of hepatitis A. These shots are covered by Medicare Part D drug plans.
Hepatitis B: This three-dose series is recommended to adults who are on dialysis, have renal disease or liver disease, are sexually active with more than one partner, have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV. These vaccinations are covered under Medicare Part B.
Meningococcal: Adults 56 and older, who have had their spleen removed, have certain blood deficiencies or plan to travel to parts of the world where meningitis is common, should receive the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine. This is covered by Medicare Part D.
To help you get a handle on which vaccines are appropriate for you, take the CDC's What Vaccines Do You Need? quiz at www2.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched. Also, talk to your doctor during your next visit about what vaccinations you should get.
If you can't remember which vaccines you've already had, check with your past doctors to see if they have any records, or contact your state's health department. Some agencies have vaccination registries (see vaccineinformation.org/state-immunization-programs) that may help you.
If you can't locate your records, your doctor can give you blood tests to see if you're immune to certain vaccine-preventable diseases. Or, they may just give you the shot. It's safe to repeat vaccines, according to the CDC.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.