Whenever I see a new patient, and at my patients’ annual wellness visits, one thing I feel it is important to discuss is vaccinations. While we all are aware that children are advised to get shots to prevent illnesses, and most people know about yearly flu shots, many adults are unaware of other immunizations they should have.
As a quick reminder, the influenza vaccine is recommended every year for everybody over 6 months of age. The most common type of flu shot is an inactivated viral vaccine, usually given in the upper arm. Most healthy, nonpregnant adults aged 18-50 can opt to receive an intranasal vaccine, such as FluMist instead of the shot. Adults over age 65 may receive a high-dose vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) due to weaker immune systems that come with age.
There are three other vaccines recommended for adults. Here is a breakdown:
Tdap: this vaccine is for prevention of tetanus (Lockjaw), diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Although most of us were vaccinated against whooping cough as children (older people may even have had whooping cough!), immunity to this disease wears off over time. There have been recent outbreaks of whooping cough in adults.
It causes a cough which may be severe enough to lead to vomiting, difficulty breathing, and cracked ribs. It can last for weeks, and occasionally lead to hospitalization and other complications. It is also important for adults to be vaccinated so that they don’t transmit the disease to infants- those 12 months and younger- who do not yet have immunity to it and in whom the disease can be very serious, even fatal. The whooping cough shot comes along with the other booster shots. It can be given even if you have recently had a tetanus shot. All adults should get tdap once, and a regular tetanus shot every 10 years.
Pneumovax: this vaccine is to prevent disease caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia. This bacteria can infect the lungs (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia) and the covering of the brain (meningitis). The vaccination is recommended for adults at highest risk of this infection, including anyone 65 or older, people with chronic lung disease, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and other chronic diseases. If the vaccination is given after age 65, it does not need to be repeated. If given prior to age 65, a second dose is recommended if it has been 5 years since the initial dose.
Zostavax: this vaccine is to prevent Herpez Zoster, or shingles. This disease leads to a painful rash, usually lasting 2-4 weeks, although pain can persist for months. About 1 in 5 people who get shingles suffer from this lasting pain, which is called post-herpetic neuralgia. Occasionally complications such as pneumonia, hearing loss, blindness, and brain infection can occur (this is very rare). Shingles is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus which also causes chickenpox. Shingles is not contagious, but a person who has never had chickenpox could get it from someone with shingles, though this is not common.
Although this vaccine is not guaranteed to prevent shingles, it significantly decreases the risk of getting it and also decreases the severity of the symptoms if shingles does occur. This vaccine is approved for adults 50 year and older, and is strongly advised for adults 60 years and older. It is also recommended for people with chronic illnesses associated with weakened immunity such as diabetes and chronic liver, kidney, and lung disease.
Other vaccinations such as hepatitis, HPV, meningitis may be recommended depending on your situation. Discussion with your physician can help determine which vaccinations you need.
Dr. Bentley is an internal medicine physician at Ogden Internal Medicine & Urology. To schedule an appointment with her, please call 801.475.8600 or visit the website.