National Immunization Awareness Month

August is National Immunization Month. As we age our immune system can weaken creating circumstances that make us more susceptible to illnesses. There are a number of ways to help keep our immune systems safe, one strategy is immunization.

Influenza

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can be severe and life-threatening.

The flu shot is not just for frail older adults. Healthy people age 65 and over experience a weakening of the immune system and are more susceptible to getting the flu. If you are managing a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease, battling the flu can be even more dangerous as complications can arise. Flu combined with Pneumonia, which is a common acute condition among the aging population, is one of the top 10 leading causes of death for people aged 65 and over.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu.

It is best to get the flu shot annually and as early in the season as possible. You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office, at a clinic, or many of the pharmacies offer them as well.

Shingles Vaccine

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus as chicken pox. Shingles can only be passed on to others prior to scabs forming from the blisters. Pain from shingles can linger long after the rash disappears.

The chicken pox virus lives dormant in the immune system and the weakening of the immune system can awaken the virus. One in three adults contracts shingles at some point in their life, most are 60 years or older. Shingles has serious side effects, like fever, exhaustion and loss of appetite. If you’ve had the chicken pox, or are unsure, you should talk with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

In October 2017, the FDA approved Shingrix, a new shingles vaccine. In January, the CDC officially recommended that adults 50 and over get the new vaccine to prevent shingles. Healthy adults 50 years and older should get two doses of Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months. You should get Shingrix even if in the past you

  • had shingles
  • received Zostavax
  • are not sure if you had chickenpox
  • Vaccine for Those 50 Years and Older

There is no maximum age for getting Shingrix.

If you had shingles in the past, you can get Shingrix to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. There is no specific length of time that you need to wait after having shingles before you can receive Shingrix, but generally you should make sure the shingles rash has gone away before getting vaccinated.

If you had Zostavax in the recent past, you should wait at least eight weeks before getting Shingrix. Talk to your doctor to determine the best time to get Shingrix.

Pneumococcal

Pneumococcal disease causes severe infections throughout the bloodstream and/or key organs. The conditions that result from pneumococcal are more commonly known, such as pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia. More than 18,000 people age 65 and over die each year from pneumococcal.

The vaccine is given in two shots usually a year apart. Check with your doctor as to when you should get this vaccine.

Tetanus

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw”. It often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. CDC recommends vaccines for infants, children, teens, and adults to prevent tetanus.  Adults should get a tetanus shot every 10 years.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection that causes violent coughing.  It can be extremely dangerous for infants and small children.  For adults, the coughing can cause vomiting, loss of bladder control, or cracked or broken ribs.

The pertussis vaccine is combined with tetanus vaccine. Adults can opt for the combined pertussis/tetanus vaccine (Tdap) one time when they are receiving their tetanus booster. If you are not due for a tetanus booster, you can get the dose of Tdap earlier than the 10-year mark. Being up-to-date with one dose of Tdap is especially important for adults who are around babies.

These are just a few of the vaccines available.  If you have concerns about immunization, you should discuss these concerns with your doctor.