Each year many adults become ill and hospitalized with serious infections that vaccines can prevent. As an adult, you may think that your vaccination days ended with grade school. This is not true. In fact, certain vaccines are recommended for specific adult age groups.
Read on to learn about recommendations and schedules for adult immunizations.
The Flu Shot
Each year millions of people get influenza, more commonly known as the flu, landing hundreds of thousands in the hospital with severe illness, sometimes even leading to death. The best way to prevent flu is by immunization. Getting a flu shot reduces your risk of getting the flu and your chance of being hospitalized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot every year.
Older adults and people with chronic illnesses, including asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, are at higher risk of developing severe flu symptoms. If you fall into any of these categories, it is even more critical to protect yourself from the flu.
The flu virus changes every year, and scientists reformulate the vaccines each year based on circulating flu viruses. Last year's flu shot will not protect you from this year's flu, so it is important to get a flu shot each year.
This year, all but one of the flu vaccines available contain four strains of the flu virus. According to the CDC, the best time to get a flu shot is during September and October. It takes your body about two weeks to build immunity after receiving a flu shot. To be protected, be sure to get your flu shot before the flu season starts. However, if you miss September, you can still get your flu shot any time during the flu season.
The flu shot does not protect you from COVID-19, but it reduces your chance of getting the flu and being hospitalized during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the symptoms of the seasonal flu and of COVID-19 are similar, reducing your risk of becoming ill with the flu reduces strain on available healthcare resources.
The Pneumonia Shot
Pneumonia is a contagious lung infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Anyone can get pneumonia, but older adults are more at risk for developing serious complications, including death. A pneumococcal vaccine can protect you from pneumonia.
There are two pneumonia vaccines:
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or PCV13 (Prevnar 13)
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine or PPSV23 (Pneumovax23)
The CDC makes the following recommendations for pneumonia immunizations:
- Adults age 65 and older should get one dose of Prevnar 13, then one dose of Pneumovax23 one year later.
- Adults ages 19 through 64 who smoke cigarettes or have chronic conditions, including heart or lung disease, diabetes, and liver disease, should get one dose of Pneumovax23.
- If you receive a dose of Pnumovax23 before you are 65 years old, you should get a final dose at age 65 or at least five years after your previous dose.
The Shingles Shot
Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your nerve cells for the rest of your life. It may reactivate later in life as shingles.
Shingles typically show up as a painful rash that may wrap around either side of your torso. It may appear on other parts of your body as well. The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). If nerve cells are damaged during a shingles outbreak, you may experience burning pain that can last for three months or longer after the shingles rash has disappeared.
To prevent shingles and PHN, the CDC recommends that all healthy adults 50 years and older receive two doses of the shingles vaccine. The preferred vaccine is Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine). It is at least 90% effective in preventing shingles and PHN when given as a two-dose series separated by two to six months.
You can get the Shingrix vaccine even if:
- You have had shingles in the past.
- You have received the Zostavax single-dose vaccine.
- You are not sure if you have had chickenpox.
Tetanus is a rare but potentially deadly disease caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. Toxins from these bacteria can cause painful muscle contractions strong enough to break bones, interfere with breathing, and cause paralysis.
A tetanus vaccine can protect you from tetanus. The CDC recommends that everyone, including adults, receive a tetanus vaccine every ten years.
There are two vaccines available that protect adults against tetanus.
- Tdap vaccine: Protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
- Td vaccine: Protects against tetanus and diphtheria
If you received a Tdap vaccine as an adolescent, the CDC recommends getting a booster with Td or Tdap every ten years. Adults who have never had a Tdap dose should receive a Tdap vaccine followed by Td or Tdap boosters every ten years. Pregnant women should receive a Tdap shot with every pregnancy.
You can get your adult vaccinations at your doctor's office, your local health department, or at a pharmacy near you. Today, many pharmacists are trained to immunize. Be sure to call your local pharmacy and ask about available adult vaccines. If your insurance does not cover your vaccine at the pharmacy, you can use a prescription savings card to get the lowest prescription price for your adult immunizations.
Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients’ concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.