By: Ayo Moses, MD, MBA | Family Medicine
Over time, our immune systems tend to weaken, putting us at higher risk for certain diseases. About 45,000 adults die each year from illnesses that could have been prevented by a vaccination (immunization). The best way to prevent certain complications is to get the appropriate vaccines. A physician can decide which vaccines are right for you based on your age, prior vaccinations, health, lifestyle, occupation and travel destinations. If you have an ongoing health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, getting immunized is especially important. The guidelines below are identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as the best way to prevent serious illness.
All adults should receive:
- Tetanus-diphtheria (Td) or tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccines: If you didn’t receive a tetanus shot as an adolescent, it is important to get one right away. Td booster shots are recommended every 10 years. Adults aged 65 years or older who are healthcare workers or who have close contact with infants less than one year old (e.g., grandparents, childcare providers) should get a single dose of Tdap as soon as possible, regardless of how long ago they had a tetanus booster.
- Seasonal flu vaccine: Also known as a flu shot, this vaccine changes from year to year to protect you against changes in the flu virus. Experts recommend you receive a flu shot every year to protect you from serious complications that can develop in people with influenza including bacteria pneumonia. When’s the best time to get it? It’s important to get the vaccination early in the fall. Flu season typically peaks between November and March, so it’s vital for you to get your shot before the holidays start. It’s important to note that it does take two weeks after getting the shot for your body to build up full immunity.
Adults age 50 and older should also receive:
- Zoster vaccine: If you had chickenpox as a child, you face a higher risk of getting shingles, a painful skin rash that affects older adults. After a bout of chicken pox, the virus can live in nerve endings and be reactivated as shingles later in life. The zoster vaccine fights the virus that causes shingles. There are two shingles vaccines available for healthy older adults. The CDC recommends that adults over age 50 get a two-dose version of the vaccine. The shots are generally given two months apart, and are nearly 90 percent effective after you’ve had both shots. The single dose vaccine may still be used for healthy people over age 60.
Adults age 65 and older should also receive:
- Pneumococcal vaccine: Pneumococcal disease causes severe infections throughout the bloodstream and/or key organs. Conditions that result from this disease include pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), and bacteremia (infection of the bloodstream). This vaccine protects you against ear, brain and lung infections (pneumonia).
- Hepatitis A and B vaccine: Some doctors also recommend that seniors with certain health problems get the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine, two infections that cause liver inflammation.
- Measles Vaccine: Given the recent Measles outbreak, any adult who has not received their first Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine yet should get their first MMR vaccine now. There may be medical reasons not to get the MMR vaccine, speak to your health care provider.
Vaccines That Are Right for You
The vaccines that are best for you depend on your age and other factors, such as:
- Are you planning to travel abroad
- Have you had your spleen removed
- Do you work in certain occupations where exposures could occur
- Are you moderately or severely ill or have a chronic illness
- Have you any severe allergies, including a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose of a vaccine
- Have you had a disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves or do you have a weakened immune system
- Have you recently had another vaccine
- Have you recently had a transfusion or received other blood products
Primary care providers are able to recommend the vaccines that are best for you based on the factors above. Speak to your healthcare provider to find out if you are up-to-date with your immunizations.