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Stay Healthy: Keep Current on Your Vaccinations

If you’re not current on your vaccinations because you don’t like needles or because you just don’t see the need, you’ve got lots of company. You may also be putting your health and the health of your loved ones at risk.

Every year millions of people die from diseases that a quick shot in the arm could have prevented or reduced in severity. Vaccine-preventable diseases kill more adults in the United States and Canada than traffic accidents, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS. Millions more get sick, are not able to go to work or care for their families. They also pass their illnesses on to others.

The pneumococcal and the shingles vaccines are among the inoculations that, depending on age and overall health, every adult should get.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

The pneumococcal vaccine can help prevent a host of serious blood, brain and lung infections including pneumonia, meningitis and septicemia. In the U.S. alone, these pneumococcal diseases kill more than 22,000 people every year.

Two types of pneumococcal vaccines are available for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) for all adults age 65 or older and for adults age 19 and older who smoke, have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma or receive treatment for conditions like cancer or kidney failure. Adults age 19 and older who have compromised immune systems or any of the risk factors listed on the CDC recommendation list should get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), which is routinely administered to children at two, four, six and 12-15 months.

The only adults who should not receive the pneumococcal vaccine are those who have a life-threatening allergy to either type of vaccine or who have a severe allergy to any of the vaccines’ ingredients.

Shingles Vaccine

Sometimes misinformation contributes to the uphill battle of convincing people to roll up their sleeves and get immunized. Shingles is a case in point. If you have ever had chickenpox, you are a candidate for shingles’ painful, weeping rash. This is because the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) that causes both remains in your body after you recover from chickenpox, until something – advancing age, a compromised immune system or stress – triggers its reactivation as shingles. The shingles vaccination should be given to most adults age 60 and older.

For many years, it was commonly believed that an outbreak of shingles was a once-in-a-lifetime event, making the shingles vaccination unnecessary for anyone who had suffered through the reappearance of the zoster virus.

This is not true.

Although the chances are slim at less than six percent, research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings finds that shingles can recur. And if you do get shingles, you can expose someone to the VZV who is not old enough to be vaccinated for chicken pox – like your newborn grandchild – who will then get sick.

The only people who should not get the shingles vaccine are adults age 60 and over who:

  • Have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the shingles vaccine
  • Have a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS, lymphoma or leukemia
  • Are receiving immune system-suppressing drugs, such as steroids, adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel), radiation or chemotherapy
  • Have active, untreated tuberculosis

Anytime you get a shot, there is always the possibility of tenderness, pain and swelling at the injection site. You might even get a headache. These discomforts should not stop you from getting your recommended vaccinations. Remember that they are temporary and, when you consider the alternative, a small price to pay.

The CDC’s adult vaccine recommendations are posted below. Click here for additional information for vaccinations related to travel outside of the U.S.

Your health and the health of your loved ones is nothing on which to gamble. Get your immunizations. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about the ones you need.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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