When you visit your doctor to get your annual flu shot this fall, ask whether there are other vaccinations you should be getting. “It’s well known that children have a vaccination schedule, but many adults aren’t aware there are a number of vaccines they should have to protect them from diseases such as pneumonia, shingles, whooping cough, and tetanus,” says Charles E. O’Dowd, MD, an internist at Highland Medical, P.C., Clarkstown Medical Associates in New City, NY.
It is safe to get more than one vaccination at a time, which allows you to avoid a repeat visit, Dr. O’Dowd notes. During National Immunization Awareness Month, learn more about the vaccinations you need.
This past flu season had record-breaking levels of influenza illness and hospitalization rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year. “We’re getting ready to give thousands of flu shots in our office alone,” Dr. O’Dowd says.
An annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick with the flu and spreading it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community. The CDC recommends you get a flu shot as soon as it’s available—usually in late September. Dr. O’Dowd encourages his patients to get the shot by early October.
You need a flu vaccine every year, because flu viruses are constantly changing. The vaccine is updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. Flu vaccine is especially important for people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, and older adults.
Every adult should get the Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent,and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years. In addition, women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks. “There’s been an uptick in whooping cough activity, so if you’re around kids, such as a grandparent taking care of their grandchildren, you should get the shot to protect them,” Dr. O’Dowd says.
If you’re over 65, you should receive the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine, which protects against pneumonia and meningitis. A person 65 or older should have a series of two pneumococcal vaccines a year apart. No further pneumococcal vaccines are needed after that.
Your doctor may recommend you get a pneumonia shot if you are younger than 65 if you have certain medical conditions that predispose you to pneumonia—such as diabetes, heart disease, or a suppressed immune system due to cancer treatment.
The new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, is recommended for those age 50 and older. The new vaccine, which requires two doses, protects people better and more safely than the older shingles vaccine, the CDC says. People who have already had the older one, called Zostavax, can get the new vaccine. Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia—the pain that follows an outbreak of shingles, according to the CDC.
Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body. The rash forms blisters that scab over in a week to 10 days. Shingles usually clears up within two to four weeks. In some people, the pain can last for months or even years after the rash clears up.
Immunizations for Travel
If you’re traveling to an exotic location, you may need vaccinations. Check the CDC website* to see whether your vacation spot requires shots. Alert your doctor at least several weeks or even a month in advance if you need a shot, so the office can order them. *wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list
Communicate With Your Doctor
It’s easy to forget when you last had certain vaccinations, which is why it’s so important to tell your primary care doctor if you get a vaccine from another provider, Dr. O’Dowd says. “That way, your doctor can keep track of all of your immunizations and let you know when you’re due for another one.”