Vaccines Can Protect Your Family
When our daughter became pregnant a few years ago, her pediatrician told her that all the adults in the family, including grandparents, should get a Tdap booster shot before handling the baby, to protect the infant from whooping cough. There was a good reason for the pediatrician's concern. More than 48,000 people in the U.S. developed whooping cough in 2012. That was the highest number of cases since 1955. The disease can last ten weeks or more, and is highly contagious. It can be serious for anyone, but is potentially fatal for infants. It is important that everyone who will be handling a baby has an up-to-date whooping cough vaccine. The one you had as a child may no longer give you immunity.
If you are uncertain how vaccines can protect you and your grandchildren, you may want to read the handy book, "Your Baby's Best Shot: Why Vaccines are Safe and Save Lives." The information in this book about vaccines for infants will pertain to adults as well, especially if they may have missed some childhood vaccines, and the book is very reassuring about the benefits and safety of vaccines. (Ad)
In addition to getting vaccinated to protect our grandchildren and other family members, there are a number of vaccinations which are recommended for senior citizens in order to protect their own health, and reduce their risk of an unnecessary and untimely death. According to an article in the September, 2019 issue of AARP Bulletin, "The Vaccines You Need," below is a list of the vaccines which every senior citizen should discuss with their physician and receive, if their doctor deems them appropriate.
Vaccinations for Older Americans
Flu Shot - Every year the strains of influenza which are traveling around the globe change, and we need a new shot to protect ourselves. Approximately 36,400 to 61,200 people in the United States die from the flu each year, and the majority of the deaths are in people over the age of 65. Getting a flu shot can protect you and, if you get the flu despite having the shot, the symptoms are likely to be milder. In addition, Medicare will cover the full cost of the shot, so seniors have no out-of-pocket expense. If you protect yourself from influenza, it will be one less thing to worry about, especially while we wait for a Covid-19 vaccine, since the initial symptoms of the two diseases can be similar.
Shingles - If you have ever known someone who developed shingles, you know how miserable it made them. Shingles is actually caused by the chicken pox virus, so if you had chicken pox as a child, you will definitely want to get vaccinated against shingles. The newest vaccine is called Shingrix and can result in some mild side effects such as fever, chills or muscle pain. It also requires two shots which are given several months apart. However, it works better than the older vaccine, called Zostravax. You should get Shingrix, even if you had the Zostavax vaccine, as long as the Zostavax vaccine was given to you more than eight weeks ago.
Chicken Pox - If you have never had chicken pox, you may assume you have nothing to worry about by the time to reach your 60s. However, this is the time you need to be more careful than ever about catching any "childhood diseases." These diseases are more dangerous than ever as you age. Even if you are never around someone with chicken pox, you could still be exposed by someone with shingles. If you want to know whether or not you have ever had chicken pox, to help you decide whether you should get the shingles shot or the chicken pox vaccine, your doctor can perform a blood test to determine if you have had an immune response to chicken pox. If you are unsure, it is worth getting the test. My husband always swore he had never had the chicken pox. However, when he was tested, they found chicken pox antibodies in his blood. He must have had a mild case when he was young, and didn't realize that he had it. After discovering that he had, indeed, had chicken pox as a child, his physician gave him the shingles vaccine.
Pneumonia - As you age, your risk of dying from pneumonia increases. There are two different vaccines, PCV13 and PCSV23. They both protect against different strains of the bacteria which cause pneumonia and other illnesses, but PCV13 targets strains which are now less common. The CDC recommends the PCSV23 for anyone age 65 and older. If you have any serious chronic health conditions such as kidney failure, heart disease, liver disease or HIV, it is especially important you get vaccinated against pneumonia as early as possible. Remember, this shot only protects you against bacterial pneumonia. It is still possible for you to get viral pneumonia, so see if a doctor if you develop a serious respiratory illness.
MMR or Measles, Mumps and Rubella - You may already be protected against these illnesses if you were born before 1957, simply because you probably already had these diseases and now have antibodies against them. You may also be protected if you got vaccinated after 1957, but not during the years between 1963 and 1967, when the vaccine used at that time was ineffective. Confused or uncertain about whether you are protected? It will not hurt to get vaccinated again. Over the past few years, there have been a number of cases of measles in the U.S. You do not want to risk being exposed to something like the measles or mumps if you are also suffering from another chronic condition.
Tdap or Tetanus, Pertussis and Diphtheria - When my physician discovered that I was regularly horseback riding and spending time in an old barn, she immediately gave me a Tdap shot to boost my tetanus protection. Everyone needs to have a booster every ten years, but many people stop bothering as they age. For me, there was a second advantage to getting a Tdap booster. It also protected me against pertussis, or whooping cough, just at the time my daughter's pediatrician insisted all the relatives be inoculated.
Hepatitis A and B - You may have already been vaccinated against hepatitis, but it is worthwhile to confirm that fact with your doctor. In addition, you should get tested for Hep C, too. Hepatitis A is a very contagious viral liver infection which causes abdominal pain and jaundice; it is often spread through contaminated food. Hepatitis B is a separate illness which is usually spread through sexual contact. The combination Hep A and B vaccine can protect you from both. Hep C is common in Baby Boomers, but there is no vaccine available, yet. Should one become available, you should discuss with your doctor whether you should get it.
I want to assure my readers that I have taken my own advice and had all the above inoculations. I have gotten the flu shot annually for decades. I have had both variations of shingles shots, and both types of pneumonia vaccines. When my Tdap inoculation expires, I will get another booster. The worst side effect I ever had was a sore arm for a couple of days and occasional tiredness after an inoculation. In particular, I felt tired for a few days after getting my second Shingrix inoculation, but not after the first one. However, if you have a chronic illness or had side effects in the past, you should discuss any potential side effects with your doctor. Your personal physician knows your medical condition the best and can help you weigh the pros and cons of any recommended vaccinations.
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