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Vaccinations: Not Just for Kids!

Vaccinations: Not Just for Kids!

Some adults may need certain shots, too.

As an adult you may think you’re done with immunizations, but guess what? You’re not! One of the more common ailments I’ve been seeing in my adult patients is pertussis, or whooping cough. You may think whooping cough is just for kids, but the vaccine you may have gotten so many years ago can wear off. When adults get pertussis we call it the 100-day cough, aptly named because that’s how long the side-splitting, spasmodic cough usually lasts. Trust me, you’ll want to avoid this if you can. But there’s another reason why it’s important to get a pertussis booster shot: The virus can be deadly if passed on to infants who may not be immunized yet.

TDAP: The vaccination is called the TDAP, a combination of a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis shot. You’ll only need the pertussis booster once, but you’ll need to get the tetanus and diphtheria booster every ten years—or sooner if you’re attacked by a rusty nail or otherwise suffer a severe and dirty wound or burn; if it’s been more than five years since your shot, you’ll need a booster right away.

Shingles: The other vaccine I highly recommend is the shingles vaccine. It can be given at age 50 to anyone who has had chicken pox. It’s given in two doses, 2 to 6 months apart. The newer version of the vaccine is about 90 percent effective. You may wonder how chicken pox can later lead to shingles. As it turns out, the chicken pox virus is sneaky. It never entirely goes away, but hides in a nerve. Then one day when you get good and stressed out or your immunity drops, the virus comes out of hibernation, so to speak, and you develop shingles—a condition that results in painful sores. The sores only appear on one side of the body in the distribution of a particular nerve. It can be any nerve, so it can be located anywhere on the body.

Does this mean that if you’ve never had chicken pox, you’re off the hook? Not necessarily. Have your doctor order a blood test to make sure you’re not immune. If not, get the chicken pox vaccine—that way you’ll never get shingles.

Flu: I never used to get the flu shot until many years ago when I was working in an urgent care center and, over the course of a winter, watched four healthy men in their forties die from the disease. That was enough for me. Complications from influenza kill anywhere from 12,000 to 61,000 people in the U.S. each year. Should you get an annual flu vaccine? Yes!

Pneumonia: Pneumonia is another potentially preventable disease. The pneumonia vaccine—which can help protect against multiple strains of pneumococcal pneumonia—is recommended for everyone 65 and older. There are two vaccines and you and your doctor can decide if you need just one or both. 

Before age 65, the vaccine is given as a precautionary measure to asthma and COPD patients as well as patients with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer, kidney disease and liver disease, to name a few. Smokers and folks with diabetes should also receive the shot.

Hepatitis: For those who travel overseas and those in the medical profession who work with people who may be ill, I also recommend vaccines to protect against hepatitis A and B, meningococcus and hemophilus influenza type b (Hib).

HPV: The vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is recommended for all boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 12, with the first dose coming at age 9 or 10. Women and men who have not previously been vaccinated can also receive the vaccine up to age 26. It helps prevent cervical and other cancers, such as head, neck and rectal cancer that are related to HPV. 

Suppose you’re older than 26? In special circumstances, a healthcare provider may recommend receiving the vaccine up until age 45, so ask your doctor.  

Vaccination catch-up: I have encountered many young adults recently who have never received any vaccinations. This is a very scary notion, especially when world travel makes it so easy for communicable diseases to be brought into areas where they’ve never been seen before. Measles and mumps are on the rise, and polio is still present in the world. I remember what it was like when these diseases were commonplace—before vaccinations had been developed to protect against them—and it was horrible. If you or your children are missing any vaccinations, please catch up on them before it’s too late.

It goes without saying that you’ll need to have a discussion with your doctor regarding which vaccines you may need. The bottom line: Vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people—and can save lives.

Medically reviewed in July 2020. 

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