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Not Your Grandbaby’s Vaccinations

Important Protection for Adults

Vaccines are not just for children. There are vaccinations for adults that protect against several preventable diseases, including influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), human papilloma virus (HPV), shingles, and pneumococcal disease. For your health and the health of the people around you, it’s important to stay up to date on adult vaccines.  

Here are some vaccines you need to consider as an adult:

Flu Shot (also known as influenza vaccine)

For all adults. Due once every flu season. 

Some adults and seniors in particular are especially vulnerable to complications from the flu. Even young people with no medical problems die from the flu every year. Get the vaccine to decrease your chances of illness. There are a few different versions of the flu vaccines for adults. For adults sixty-five and older, I recommend a high-dose flu vaccine. This vaccine has been shown to be more effective in older populations. Adults younger than sixty-five can be adequately vaccinated with the regular-dose flu shot. 

You need a new vaccine every season because immunity fades over time and flu strains change. Flu season starts in September and end in March. It takes about two weeks to build immunity after receiving the shot. I recommend planning to get your vaccine by the end of October before flu activity usually peaks, but there is still a health benefit from receiving a flu shot anytime during flu season, which can continue as late as May. 

Prevnar (also known as PCV13)

Pneumovax (also known as PPSV23)

Both are for adults sixty-five and older and adults with certain medical conditions. 

Prevnar and Pneumovax are different vaccines. Both protect against infections caused by pneumococcus, a bacteria that can cause severe infections of the bloodstream, pneumonia, and meningitis. For adults sixty-five and older, it is recommended to get Pneumovax. Discuss Prevnar with your doctor and determine if it’s right for you. If you are a candidate for Prevnar, I recommend getting it first, followed by Pneumovax one year later. The vaccines work well together to offer immunity. Adults with certain chronic conditions (like diabetes) are at risk of significant infection at a younger age and should receive these vaccinations earlier than sixty-five. Some adults will get an additional booster shot later depending on their health history. 

Shingles Vaccine (also known as Shingrix)

Recommended for adults sixty and older. FDA approved for adults fifty and older. Complete after two doses.

Shingrix protects against shingles. Shingles usually presents as a painful rash with blisters in a cluster. Complications include chronic pain, blindness if the eyes are involved, and hearing impairment if the ears are involved. Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus is present in the fluid of the blisters. You could potentially spread the virus to loved ones if they have contact with that fluid. Getting the vaccine makes it less likely for you to get shingles and less likely to have chronic pain due to shingles.

Tetanus Shot (also known as Tdap or Td)

For all adults. Due once every ten years, during pregnancy, or if you get a major cut. 

Tdap and Td vaccines protects against: 1) tetanus, a bacterial infection that affects nerves causing severe spasms and can be fatal and 2) diphtheria, a potentially fatal bacterial respiratory infection. 

Tdap protects against pertussis (whooping cough), a bacterial lung infection that leads to complications like pneumonia. Adults often pass the disease to children, and children often have more severe cases. 

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine
(also known as Gardasil)

Recommended for adults up to age twenty-six. FDA approved for use up to age forty-five. Complete after three doses. 

Human papilloma virus can contribute to various genital cancers and genital warts. The vaccine protects against nine types of the virus that are most associated with disease. Many adults may have received the vaccines as teenagers. If you have not started or completed the three doses, it’s not too late to get the protection provided by this vaccine. Talk with your doctor and get started.

Adults of all ages should talk to their primary care provider about recommended vaccinations. If you want to know the out-of-pocket cost of a vaccine, check with your insurance company. For more information about vaccines and your wellness, visit Be well! 

Claire W. Thomas, MD, is a family physician who provides primary care to adult and pediatric patients at Commonwealth Primary Care. She is a native of the metro Richmond area. She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Virginia, then completed her Family Medicine Residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Outside of work, she enjoys working on art projects, researching family history, trying local restaurants, and spending time with family.
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