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Ask Oz and Roizen: Cleaning Pacifiers and a More Effective Shingles Vaccine

Ask Oz and Roizen: Cleaning Pacifiers and a More Effective Shingles Vaccine

Boost you and your child’s immune system with these expert tips.

Q: My one-year-old daughter occasionally drops her pacifier on the ground. I just clean it off in my mouth and hand it back to her. My mom says that’s awful, but there’s nothing wrong with that is there? —Annabel T., Abilene, TX

A: Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with a little Mom-juice to clean off a pacifier. What you’re doing is sharing part of your disease-fighting oral biome with your daughter and that’s a really good thing. You’re helping boost her immune system (and maybe yours) by introducing a few immune system-engaging microbes—and that helps her fight off chronic problems such as allergies. (We assume your lawn doesn’t have pesticide on it and the sidewalk isn’t some urban hot spot—you can gauge those riskier environments, we hope.)

Recently, researchers in Detroit, MI, found that moms who cleaned their children’s pacifier by sucking on it have kids who develop fewer allergies. And there’ve been several studies showing that kids who grow up on farms with (naturally germy) animals or with pets in more urban settings are exposed to lots of microbes and have greatly reduced rates of asthma.

These findings lend support to the hygiene hypothesis—a widely held theory that over-clean Western environments reduce our exposure to infectious agents and other microbes, and that leaves our powerful immune systems with not much to work on but us! Hence, the big increase in autoimmune disease and allergies in First World countries, while there’s a relative lack of them in Third World environments.

So stick with your pacifier cleaning routine (please use a pacifier with no BPA or BPS in the plastic), but if she drops it somewhere that looks a bit suspicious, don’t make yourself or your daughter sick. Strong immune systems are great, but don’t pay too high a price.

Q: I got the shingles vaccine in 2016 and thought I was done. Now I hear there’s a new one that’s better. Should I get it? —Sherrie B., Falmouth, MA

A: For most people 50 and older, the best way to avoid getting shingles is to have this new vaccine, even if you’ve received the previous inoculation or have had shingles before. The latest version of the vaccine is called Shingrix; the version you received in ’06 is called Zostavax. Both protect you from the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that gives you chicken pox. (If you got the old vaccine within the last five years, it shouldn’t be a deterrent to getting this new one, but ask your doc.)

Zostavax is a live attenuated vaccine that’s given as a single injection. Shingrix is a “non-live” vaccine. It takes two doses of Shingrix—the second, two to six months after the first. It’s smart to schedule your follow-up shot right after you get your first one, because this is a very popular vaccine. After it was approved by the FDA in 2017, the manufacturers could barely keep up with demand. Some folks who waited to schedule a follow-up injection had to wait past the recommended six-month follow-up period and it meant that they didn’t get the optimal protection they could have. (You can find a vaccination source at Shingrix.com or vaccinefinder.org.)

According to the CDC, the Shingrix vaccine is safe and 89 to 97 percent effective for adults over 50 (that’s more effective than the earlier one). But there have been side effects reported in about one out of six people that “prevented them from doing regular activities.” The side effects usually fade after two or three days, and they beat the heck out of the alternative—battling shingles.

Shingles causes a painful rash that can last for months and be debilitating. Before this vaccine, it was estimated that as many as one in three people would get it at some point, so do yourself a favor, check with your doc and schedule the new, more effective inoculation.

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