Published on August 29, 2016

Vaccinations aren’t just for kidsVaccinations aren’t just for kids

You may know that immunizations are important for your children, but how often do you think about them for yourself?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reports that each year millions of adults living in the United States suffer needlessly, are hospitalized or even die from diseases that are entirely preventable.

“One of the highest-impact vaccines is the flu vaccine,” Floyd McIntyre, MD, said. “A fair number of people still don’t get the flu vaccine every year for whatever reason, but if enough people get the flu vaccine it really limits the spread of the flu in the community. It saves antibiotic usage, it saves hospital visits and it does prevent a lot of serious disease.”

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which reminds us to go over our medical record to see if we are up-to-date on our shots.

“There are still some important diseases that there aren’t immunizations for but I generally think that people should be immunized for the ones we can prevent,” Dr. McIntyre said.

If you are unsure which vaccines you might need, visit the CDC’s Adolescent and Adult Vaccine Quiz. It has eight simple questions. Once you answer them, it and gives you a page of possible immunizations that you can print and bring to your next doctor’s appointment.

Vaccines the CDC Recommends for Every Adult:

  • Influenza: All adults, including pregnant women, should get the influenza (flu) vaccine each year to protect against the seasonal flu.
  • Tdap: Every adult should have one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough if they did not get Tdap as a teen. Pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Td: Every adult should get the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every ten years. If you have a dirty or crush injury, the booster should be given at five years.
  • Shingles: Adults 60 and older should get the shingles vaccine.
  • Pneumonia: Adults 65 and older should get one to two pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccines.

Tetanus is an important booster to get even if you don’t cut yourself on a rusty nail, as conventional wisdom advises, said Dr. McIntyre.

“Tetanus is a disease that is in the dirt and dust everywhere,” he said. “It’s not a disease that we can ever wipe out, so it is something that everyone should be immunized against. Even with modern technology, about half of the cases of tetanus can be fatal.”

There has been some confusion about the new pneumonia vaccine that is getting a lot of coverage in television ads. Dr. McIntyre explained the difference between the two.

“It’s not actually all that much different from the older pneumonia vaccine,” he said. “One was called PCV 23 and it has 23 different strains of pneumonia in it. The new one is PCV 13. It has 13 strains of pneumonia in it. It sounds like less protection but because there are fewer strains in one shot, there is more of each of those 13, so it gives a stronger response to those 13 that are most common.”

Eleven of the 13 strains were already included in the PCV 23 vaccination, so if someone received the older vaccine a few years earlier, they probably don’t need the new one, Dr. McIntyre said.

“I generally recommend that people get the shingles vaccine,” he said. “Shingles is a nasty disease and there are a few people who can lose an eye from shingles. Some people will have persistent pain for the rest of their lives.”

It is important for people to know that even if they do get the vaccine, they can still get shingles, Dr. McIntyre warned. Anyone who gets a rash that appears to be in a line should suspect shingles and see their doctor, regardless of their immunization history.

Dr. McIntyre’s Recommendations for Population-Specific Vaccines:

  • People who have had a splenectomy have a lifelong increased risk of infections and should have both the meningococcal and the Haemophilus influenza b (Hib) vaccines to reduce the risk of sepsis. Additionally, people who have had a splenectomy should also have the PCV 13 to prevent pneumococcal sepsis; the PCV 13 is actually the most important of the vaccines for the splenectomy patient.
  • Anyone who has been bitten by an animal should talk to their doctor about being immediately vaccinated against rabies.
  • Veterinarians and their assistants should also get a single rabies vaccination every two years as protection.
  • People younger than 65 who have a respiratory illness like emphysema or asthma should get the pneumonia vaccine.

Vaccines for foreign travel:

Dr. McIntyre recommends that anyone who travels to exotic locations check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Health page to see what immunizations they should get before their trip. Examples of travel immunizations depend on where you are going, but they can include yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, polio, measles, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The hepatitis shots are especially important for those with liver disease.

Those who are planning a trip outside the country can also seek advice from the new Cape Cod Healthcare Travel Clinic at Fontaine Outpatient Center in Harwich.