Ask the Docs
Vaccines: They Just Aren’t for Kids
A Guide to the Most Common Vaccines for Adults Age 50 and Older
By Heather Loguidice, ARNP
When we think about immunizations most of us assume they are for babies, children, and adolescents. Did you know that adults need vaccines, too? Unfortunately, studies show that health care professionals do a sub-optimal job of vaccinating their adult patients. Plus, many adults are not aware that they even need vaccines. Many assume that they are already immunized against certain illnesses because they were vaccinated as a child.
Vaccines work by introducing a weak form of a disease into your body. This triggers an immune response causing antibodies to be made. These antibodies are designed to fight off the actual disease if you are ever exposed to it. Thus, you do not have to suffer from the disease itself.
The immunity you attain from vaccinations can wean off over time. This is why adults need “boosters” of some of their previous vaccinations. Also, one might need vaccinations when traveling to different countries to prevent catching an illness that you normally would not be exposed to. To learn more about travel vaccines consult the Center for Disease Control (CDC) traveler’s website at least 8-10 weeks in advance of your travel plans in order to have adequate time to get your vaccines before traveling. The CDC currently recommends the following vaccines for adults ages 50 years and older.
Influenza vaccine: This is the “flu” vaccine. Influenza poses an enormous health risk to older adults and young children and infants. It is recommended that adults 50 and older receive the injection form of the flu vaccine (not the nasal spray) on a yearly basis. It is typically given in the early fall starting in September. Individuals who are allergic to eggs, have had a bad reaction to a previous flu shot or have a history of Guillen Barre syndrome after receiving a flu shot should not receive the vaccine.
Pneumococcal vaccine: This is a vaccine to reduce the risk of getting pneumonia caused by the pneumococcal bacteria. Individuals 65 and older should receive the vaccine. It is typically a one time vaccine. People younger than age 65 years who have chronic health problems, such as heart and lung disease (including asthma), chronic liver disease, diabetes, immuno-compromising conditions, such as HIV and certain cancers, individuals without a spleen, and those who smoke should receive the vaccine at an earlier age. If the vaccine is given before age 65, it is recommended to have a one time revaccination 5 years after the initial vaccine was given.
Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis): Due to recent outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) across the country, the CDC recommends that adults of any age be given a booster of Tdap. This is especially true if the adult is in contact with infants and young children or is a healthcare provider. Once the Tdap booster is received, a Td booster every 10 years should be received.
Zoster vaccine (shingles): Herpes zoster (shingles) stems from the varicella (chicken pox) virus. Once you have chicken pox, the virus lies dormant within the body. As we age, our immunity to this virus falls and the virus can reactivate in the form of shingles. Shingles follows the nerve root pattern and typically causes a very painful, burning, itchy rash with blisters. The pain can last for weeks to months even after the rash resolves. The vaccine is indicated for persons age 50 and older, but current CDC guidelines recommend giving the vaccine to adults 60 years and older. The reason being that after age 60 the incidence of shingles increases due to waning immunity. Adults who have never had chicken pox and have not been immunized should receive the varicella vaccine.
This is just a brief synopsis of the most recommended vaccines for adults. The purpose of vaccinating is to protect individuals from potentially deadly diseases with horrible consequences. Not all vaccines are recommended for everyone and the guidelines can vary with certain populations. I encourage you, especially if you are 50 years or older, to discuss your immunization status with your healthcare provider at your next visit. For further information regarding vaccines or to make an appointment for a specific vaccine please contact us at Family Medical and Wellness Center at 561 721-1953.