By Carolyn Dechaine, PA-C
Many people think vaccines are only for children, but adults should get regularly vaccinated to protect themselves and loved ones from serious diseases. Below is a list of recommended vaccines that every adult should receive, along with information about each one.
The Flu Shot: What is it, and why should I get it?
Flu symptoms include abrupt high fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness. These symptoms usually go away, without medication, in seven to 10 days.
The influenza virus mutates and changes at a high rate. These mutations prevent our immune system from protecting us against the virus. Flu seasons vary in timing and duration.
- Flu season in the US is generally from October to April.
- The vaccines take six months to make and are made each year to try to match the circulating global virus.
- You should be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
- Receiving the flu vaccine decreases the risk of complications including death. It also decreases the severity of illness if contracted.
- The flu virus can travel 6 feet as air borne particles.
- The flu virus can live for 24 hours on hard surfaces.
- Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and washing your hands well with soap drastically decreases the spread of this virus.
- You can receive the vaccine if you currently have a mild upper respiratory infection with or without a fever.
There are some individuals who should not receive the flu vaccination.
- Avoid getting the flu shot if you are currently experiencing a moderate to severe upper respiratory infection with or without a fever.
- Avoid getting the flu shot if you have a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis to egg whites.
- Those with Guillain Barre Syndrome who have a low-risk disease burden may use with caution, but should generally avoid this vaccine.
The influenza vaccine can be both live attenuated or inactivated. The most common given is the inactivated form.
The standard inactivated vaccine has two types:
- Trivalent: contains two influenza virus A and one Influenza virus B antigens. This also comes in a high dose version, which is indicated for those 65 years or older.
- Quadrivalent: contains two influenza virus A and two Influenza virus B antigens and is indicated for those aged 18 – 64.
What is shingles and why should I get a vaccine to prevent it?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that occurs when the chicken pox virus in your body is reactivated. The cause of this reactivation is unknown, but anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.
This rash can start on any one side of body. The skin may first become red, itch, burn or tingle, and then clear or red blisters form on top of the red skin. The rash continues to travel and appears like a stripe.
The blisters and redness will eventually resolve within 10 to 20 days, but some people experience ongoing pain once the rash has disappeared. This is called post herpetic neuralgia.
Getting the chickenpox vaccine as a child or getting the shingles vaccine as an adult can decrease your chances of developing shingles.
Shingrix, a dead virus vaccine, is currently replacing Zostavax, a live virus vaccine:
- Shingrix stimulates active immunity.
- It is a new recombinant formulation – dead virus – that chemists genetically altered the cell to improve the process and outcome.
- Shingrix is recommended for adults aged 50 years and older.
- It is a two-shot series with the second shot administered two to six months after the first.
- If the series is interrupted, the series does not need to be restarted.
- Shingrix reduced the incidence of shingles by 97% in those adults aged 50 to 70.
- Shingrix reduced the incidence of shingles by 91% in those adults aged 70 and older.
- Those who were vaccinated with Shingrix and had a shingle outbreak, had a reduction in PHN by 89% in those adults aged 70 and older.
Why should I get a pneumonia vaccine?
Pneumonia symptoms include a phlegm cough, high fever, sweating, shortness of breath and fatigue. As we age, the risk for pneumonia increases because our immunity response decreases. Those more at risk may have COPD, CHF, DM, Asplenia, immunocompromised disorder. The newest vaccine for pneumonia is Prevnar 13 and 23:
- Prevnar immunization is made from dead bacteria.
- Prevnar 13 has 13 strains of pneumonia.
- Prevnar 23 has 23 strains of pneumonia.
- Those allergic to diphtheria toxoid should avoid Prevnar immunization.
- For the healthy population, Prevnar 13 should be given first followed by Prevnar 23 – one year apart.
- For those at risk and 64 years or younger – Prevnar 23 is recommended first then Prevnar 13 after age 65.
Make sure to talk to your clinician first to confirm which Prevnar vaccine is right for you.
What is the DTaP vaccine? When should I get it?
Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis immunizations come in an all-in-one vaccine known as DTaP.
Diphtheria is usually a respiratory illness that can cause a sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes to the neck and a low-grade fever. Usually, a culture is needed to confirm this infection. If not treated, it could damage the heart, nervous system and kidneys.
Tetanus is a nervous system disorder that produces muscle spasms and rigidity. This bacteria is found mostly in soil, but transmission can also occur from puncture wounds, burns, a penetrating injury or contaminated needles. This vaccine is recommended every 10 years and if you have sustained a moderate or severe open wound.
Pertussis is a highly contagious acute respiratory illness also known as whooping cough. The body can clear this infection without antibiotics in 10 to 14 days in most adults. It is important to vaccinate anyone who has close contact to infants under one year old.
How do I know if I have COVID-19? Do I need a booster shot?
Coronavirus, commonly known as COVID-19, is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 is an infectious disease with a large variety of reported symptoms ranging from mild to severe illness appearing anywhere between 2-14 days following exposure to the virus.
COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Fever and/or chills
- Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing
- Muscle and/or body aches
- Sudden loss of taste and/or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion and/or runny nose
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Please keep in mind that while anyone can experience these symptoms, it is more likely that older people and individuals with underlying medical conditions will develop severe illness.
In addition to the first and second round of COVID-19 vaccinations, the CDC recommends that seniors continue to receive their booster shots when eligible to increase their protection from severe COVID-19 illness.
Consult with your healthcare provider about receiving a booster shot and learn more about the booster shot here.