If you’re like most people, you probably thought you received all the necessary shots when you were a kid. Not true. You never outgrow the need for vaccines. Protection from some childhood vaccinations can wear off over time. And as you age, you can become susceptible to other illnesses.
We all want to do what is best for our children. However, with access to so much information (and misinformation) on TV and the Internet on the risks and benefits of vaccines, it can be difficult for some parents to decide what is best for their children. What is more likely to be found on the Internet are the very rare possible vaccine complications or total misinformation like the uniformly discredited theory that autism may be caused by the MMR vaccine. The truth is, vaccines have saved the lives of millions and millions of children and have nearly eradicated some previously terrifying deadly diseases such as diphtheria, measles and smallpox.
Many of the diseases we vaccinate are still very real and dangerous and not only in far away countries. With so many children in daycare, diseases can spread rapidly. Whooping cough is contagious and, although may just present as a cold in older children and adults, could be severe in young infants. Any adult taking care of infants should be vaccinated with the TDaP vaccine to prevent spreading whooping cough to a baby.
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine also offers protection to the unborn. If a mother were to become infected with the rubella virus early in her pregnancy it is likely the baby would be born with birth defects causing blindness, deafness and mental retardation.
The pneumococcus and haemophilus influenza vaccines have saved thousand of babies and young children from meningitis, pneumonia and death.
The human papilloma virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US causing primarily benign transient genital warts. More concerning, it also causes about 27,000 new cancer cases a year, affecting both men and women. To help reduce your child’s risk he or she should be vaccinated against this before they become sexually active.
What if you decide not to vaccinate your child? If your child goes through life never being exposed to these diseases then nothing will happen. However, if he were exposed and not vaccinated, it is likely he would get sick with the disease. He could either recover after a mild illness or become very sick. He could also spread the disease to other children, babies and adults causing them to become ill. If we all choose not to vaccinate there could be a re-emergence of the many diseases we have worked so hard to overcome.
The flu can live on doorknobs for 8 hours. Here are the cliff notes on prevention:
• Hand washing
• Stay home if you are sick
• Come October, get vaccinated
• Cover your cough
FLU–Once again, fall is upon us. With the cooler weather come pathogens, such as influenza and pneumonia, and more hospital admissions.
Influenza (Flu) is a formidable pathogen. Complications vary from sinusitis and pneumonia to irreversible neurologic issues and death. The most vulnerable populations are children younger than 6 months old, pregnant women, elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system (i.e. transplant and cancer patients). The vaccine decreases the probability of infection by 50 percent.
There are two broad categories of influenza: seasonal and pandemic. Seasonal occurs locally during our fall and winter months (October – May). However seasonal can become pandemic if a significant amount of the population is not immune (or been immunized), meaning there is an inadequate level of herd immunity. The most recent pandemic occurred in 2009 with H1N1, and we learned that influenza can spread around the world in six weeks with inadequate herd immunity. One key concept: even if last year’s match wasn’t spot on, it can protect you from a strain in the coming years.
Seasonal flu annually infects 5-20% of the population, resulting in 3,000-48,000 deaths and over 200,000 hospitalizations. The 1918 pandemic (the ‘Spanish flu’) killed 20 million people, more than all the casualties of WWII total. If a pandemic occurred today caused by a strain as transmissible as the 2009 H1N1 with the pathogenicity of the 1918 strain, it is projected that 2 million Americans would die and 90 million would fall ill. Vaccination is necessary in order to prevent such an outcome.
For further information, go to www.flu.gov.
-Amanda Parks, MD
SHINGLES–Most adults in the United States had chickenpox as children, making them susceptible to developing shingles, a painful rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus in your body. The risk of developing shingles increases as you age. It’s estimated half of adults 80 and older will have shingles.
The one-dose shingles vaccine is approved for adults 50 and older and recommended for those 60 and older. Because the vaccine is a live virus, you shouldn’t get inoculated if you’re pregnant, running a fever, have a weak immune system or are allergic to gelatin or neomycin. You should not receive any other vaccine containing a live virus within 28 days of getting your shingles shot.
- Erin Scott, ANP-BC
Pneumonia Prevnar 13 is recommended for adults 65 and older. It should be followed a year later by a Pneumovax shot. But that’s just the general rule; however, recommendations vary per person. You may need to get the vaccine at a much earlier age if you are a smoker or have any one of a long list of conditions, including diabetes, chronic renal failure, leukemia, sickle cell, heart or lung disease.
These two vaccines not only reduce the risk of infection caused by many strains of pneumococcal bacteria, they can decrease the severity of the illness.
- Erin Scott, ANP-BC
Tdap/Td (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)
If you didn’t get a Tdap vaccination as an adolescent, you should get the one-dose vaccine at least once as an adult to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years.
Women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant. It’s also important for healthcare professionals and child care workers to be vaccinated. In addition, you should get a Tdap shot after a severe cut, burn or dog bite if you have not had a Td booster in more than five years.
The most common side effect with any of these vaccines is a slight redness and warmth at the injection site. Some people may experience mild systemic reactions, such as body aches, headache or low-grade fever. More serious side effects are rare. Your healthcare provider can discuss the risks and benefits of vaccinations, but ultimately, it’s up to you.
- Erin Scott, ANP-BC