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Seniors and the COVID-19 vaccine

Seniors may be wondering if they should get the vaccine. James Lai, MD, Geriatric Medicine physician at Yale New Haven Hospital and Associate Chief of Clinical Affairs for Geriatrics at Yale School of Medicine and Vivian Argento, MD, Executive Medical Director of Geriatric and Palliative Care at Bridgeport Hospital and physician at Northeast Medical Group, answered some frequently asked questions.

Is the vaccine safe for seniors?

Yes. The FDA issued Emergency Authorization Use for the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, clearing them as safe and effective. The clinical trials for these vaccines were thorough and included a large amount of people, with up to 40,000 participants in the Pfizer trial and 30,000 in the Moderna trials. The Johnson & Johnson trial had around 43,000 participants.

During the first rollout phase in Connecticut, those living in nursing homes received the vaccine, along with frontline healthcare workers. Vaccine reactions are tracked by the CDC and have been very rare.

What are the side effects?

Side effects associated with the vaccines include soreness or pain at the injection site, headache, muscle or joint pain and sometimes fever. Mild side effects are common with vaccines and these reactions just mean that your immune system is working. If you have a history of allergic reactions, let the healthcare providers know when you go to get vaccinated.

If you have a severe reaction, our staff is trained to respond.

“The most common side effect I have heard from older adults is ‘my arm hurts,’ and it does hurt a little bit for about a day and then it starts to get better and again. Tylenol helps with alleviating that pain,” Dr. Argento said.

I have underlying health conditions. Should I get the vaccine?

Yes. We are encouraging our eligible patients with underlying health conditions to get vaccinated because they could be at risk of developing more severe cases of COVID-19 if infected. 

According to the CDC, some of the conditions that put people at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 include cancer, obesity, heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those with liver disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma, and anyone with an immunocompromised state might be at an increased risk for severe illness as well.

Learn more about vaccine safety for people who underlying health conditions.

Please note, the FDA now allows for a third vaccine dose for certain individuals who are immunocompromised. Learn more about recommendations for third doses. 

Why should seniors get vaccinated?

Just like for patients with underlying health conditions, seniors are at risk for developing more severe cases of COVID-19, resulting in hospitalization and even death. According to the CDC, eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 and older.

“The best way for seniors to protect themselves is to get vaccinated,” Dr. Lai said. “The vaccines available are safe, effective and have been tested thoroughly.”

I am immunocompromised and don’t want to leave home. Is it safe to go get the vaccine?

Anytime you leave home, we encourage you to wear a mask, social distance, and avoid others who are not wearing a mask. The same is true when it’s time to get your vaccine. If you need a caregiver or loved one to take you to get vaccinated, make sure you are both wearing masks and social distance. You will notice that inside our healthcare facilities, staff will be masked as well.

Once I get the vaccine can I go travel or see family members I haven’t been able to see?

The vaccine is highly effective, but there is still a small chance you could get COVID-19. That’s why even after vaccination, you will still need to take precautions to protect yourself and others from the virus. But getting vaccinated is a good first step to helping us all return to the activities we have had to put on hold.

If you wish to see loved ones, it is safer to do so outside, as long as everyone is wearing a mask and socially distanced.  

I’m a caregiver. How do I talk to my loved one about getting vaccinated?

We understand some people may be wary about get vaccinated. But don’t shame your loved one if they feel uneasy.

“The best way to encourage someone to get vaccinated is by having a calm talk with them,” said Dr. Lai. “Ask them why they are reluctant to get the vaccine and then explain why it’s safe.”

It can also be helpful to explain why you will be getting the vaccine yourself. When people see that other people they trust are getting the vaccine, they might become open to doing so themselves. If your loved one has specific concerns about their health, have them reach out to their doctor to have a discussion about it.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines