Immunization-A Drive-By Shot

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The recommended immunizations for older adults do change from time to time. For example, in the past several years a vaccine for shingles has become available. My goal with today’s health letter is not to delve into the mirky world of immunization controversy that seems to live out in internet space and is largely focused on children. I want to focus on the current, scientifically sound recommendations for older adults.

The flu can be particularly serious in older adults. Pneumonia associated with influenza brings with it a substantial risk of death. Unless there is compelling reasons not to get the flu shot, it is strongly recommended each season. The configuration of each seasons flu virus’s is different. A vaccine is produced each year based on the best guess on which ones will make their appearance. That is why some years the vaccine is more effective than others. When the prediction is good the vaccine will be more effective. There is no way to predict effectiveness until the season is on it’s way.

Tetanus has become a rare disease thanks to this vaccine. The vaccine is usually a mix of diphtheria (Td) with or without whooping cough/pertussis(Tdap). The whooping cough has reared it’s head of late. The immunity from this disease wanes over time with or without the vaccine. In the past the traditional tetanus booster in adults was the one with only diphtheria in it. Now with the threat of whooping cough we recommend all our older adults get a Tdap. Even if you had a tetanus booster (Td) in the past year we recommend a Tdap now.

Pneumonia is a major cause of death and morbidity in older adults, particularly in those suffering from chronic respiratory diseases. The pneumonia vaccine provides coverage for a series of pneumonia bacteria that are responsible for a substantial number of cases. By getting the vaccine your certainly not protected against all forms of pneumonia but it may help. We recommend one shot after age 65.

The shingles vaccine is a new comer to the adult immunization recommendations. In general it will reduce the chance of shingles or the pain after a case by about 50 percent. It has proven to be safe. I know the effectiveness is less than hoped for, but to those who have suffered from a case of shingles or worse yet suffered from the pain that can follow, it may be worth it.

Cheers to your health,

Paul Koberna, MD