While the debate about immunizations continues, at least one expert says the elderly and chronically ill are not as necessarily at a greater risk for problems from them.
“An ordinary elderly person is not at greater risk simply because of their age,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FACP, a board-certified infectious disease physician and associate at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “With the chronically ill, it depends on their illness.”
Adalja says those with a greater risk include people of any age who have HIV/AIDS, those who are taking immune-suppressing medications for a procedure like a transplant, and people who chronically take steroids. In addition, only certain immunizations, such as the live-attenuated type, can be a risk for some because the vaccine virus could begin to multiply in the body.
“It does not just have to do with age, but more to do with other illnesses someone might have – whether they are 10 years of age or 75 years of age,” he said.
One common immunization for elderly populations is a shingles vaccine. For those at risk, experts believe that is the best way to avoid getting shingles, especially for people using elderly home care. Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus that people typically get in childhood.
“Just be healthy in general with proper nutrition,” Adalja said about those who cannot get the vaccine.
Annual immunizations for the flu and pneumonia are not live vaccines and should not pose the same risk, he explained.
There is another school of thought on vaccinations, most often talked about when it comes to inoculating babies and young children.
“The elderly and chronically ill can be at risk from vaccines because vaccines contain many different toxins,” said Dr. Mary Ann Block, author, osteopathic physician and Medical Director of The Block Center. “The kidneys and liver of the elderly and chronically ill are not likely working as well as they should, so these people, unfortunately may not be able to get rid of the toxins.”
Block recommends that people who might be in a population with any risk to vaccinations get tested first.
“They should have blood work done to see if they are already immune to a disease before getting any vaccine,” she said. “They should get only one vaccine at a time, leaving at least two months between so that the body can have a better chance to eliminate the toxins in one vaccine at a time.”
The toxins possibly found in vaccines Block is referring to include mercury and aluminum, and many other ingredients like formaldehyde, MSG, and more. Block is the author of “No More Antibiotics,” and several other books.
Adalja is firm that vaccines are beneficial and fears of mercury and other toxins are overblown.
“The type of mercury that was in vaccines is not the kind that causes bad problems,” he said. “You can get more mercury from eating tuna.”