Vaccinations aren’t just for kids. Grown-ups need them too.

October 9, 2018

EUGENE, Ore. – Children aren’t the only ones who need to stay up-to-date on vaccinations.

With flu season approaching, all adults should consider getting a flu shot, said James Sims, DNP, a clinician at PeaceHealth Medical Group’s Senior Health and Wellness clinic in Eugene.

It’s also a good time for them to talk with their health care provider about other vaccinations they might need.

“If there is a vaccine for an illness, then I believe everyone should get it to reduce the chance of contracting the illness,” Sims said. “It not only protects you, it protects the community, in general.”

That’s because vaccines work based on the concept of “herd” immunity.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the better the vaccine works because there are fewer people available to serve as hosts for the disease and promote its spread,” Sims said.

Getting a flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a flu shot for everyone older than 6 months. It takes about two weeks for the antibodies from the vaccine to fully offer protection. So October is the ideal time to get the vaccine, before flu season is in full swing.

The vaccine won’t always prevent someone from catching the flu, but it will lessen the severity and help prevent spreading it to others who may be at high risk for complications, including young children, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions.

Adults 65 and older should ask about a high-dose vaccine, which is about four times stronger than the regular flu vaccine, Sims said. It’s intended to promote a more robust immune response.

Protection against pneumonia

Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, can cause mild to severe illness. Each year in the United States, about 1 million people are hospitalized for pneumonia and about 50,000 people die from the disease, according to the CDC.

Adults 65 and older should get one of two types of pneumonia vaccines, Sims said. And people with chronic illness, such as diabetes or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), should consider starting the pneumonia vaccine at age 50. Smokers, who are at higher risk for pneumonia than nonsmokers, also can benefit from the vaccine, Sims said.

The two pneumonia vaccines are PCV13, also known as Prevnar, and PPV23. When adults turn 65, they should get the PCV13 shot, followed by the PPV23 the next year, according to the CDC.

Unlike the flu vaccine, a pneumonia shot is not needed every year, Sims said. The series of two shots is intended to offer protection for the rest of the adult’s life, he said.

Patients often ask whether they can get a flu shot and a pneumonia shot at the same time. The answer is yes, Sims said. There are no greater side effects with getting them at the same time.

Preventing shingles

Adults age 50 and older who had chickenpox (varicella) when they were younger should ask about the shingles vaccine, Sims said.

Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body, often on the face or torso.

For years, the only shingles vaccine was Zostavax. But a new vaccine, called Shingrix, was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year.

The CDC recommend that healthy adults age 50 and older get two doses of Shingrix, two to six months apart. Patients won’t get full immunity if they skip the second shot, Sims said.

National demand for Shingrix has outpaced supply. Those who want the vaccine can ask to be placed on a waiting list with their provider or pharmacy.

Don’t forget pertussis

Sims also reminds his patients 65 and older to get a one-time update of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)—a vaccine most received as younger adults.

Adults with pertussis, also called whooping cough, might have an annoying cough for months. But they can infect others with the disease, including vulnerable babies and young children.

“Since older adults may have grandchildren, it would be wise to get that vaccine,” Sims said. 

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About PeaceHealth: PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver, Wash., is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. PeaceHealth has approximately 16,000 caregivers, a group practice with more than 900 providers and 10 medical centers serving both urban and rural communities throughout the Northwest. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. The Sisters shared expertise and transferred wisdom from one medical center to another, always finding the best way to serve the unmet need for healthcare in their communities. Today, PeaceHealth is the legacy of the founding Sisters and continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its Mission.

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