11 Feb 2017
Are you current on all your vaccinations? According to a February 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coverage rates for all vaccines for adults have shown only modest improvements over prior years. The pneumococcal vaccination rate for adults in 2014 in the U.S., aged 65 and older, improved to roughly 61%. And while the rate of coverage for the herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine for those 60 and over increased by more than three percentage points, it came in at a rate of just under 28% of that population. With little downside to these vaccines, there are still many missed opportunities to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases.
We spoke with Lauren Maltese, M.D., a physician with Phelps Medical Associates for expert advice on the vaccines recommended for our readers.
(Protects against pneumococci bacteria/ pneumonia)
For Whom: Ages 65+ (and younger for those with risk factors)
According to Dr. Maltese, there’s a bit of confusion about the pneumococcal vaccine as there are now two of them. She says Prevnar13 should be taken first; it’s a newer vaccine that protects against 13 additional strains. Then, one year later, PPSV23 (Pneumovax) should be administered. If, however, you’ve already received the PPSV23 vaccine, then still take Prevnar13. Talk to your doctor about timing. You only need Prevnar13 once. Pneumovax can be taken two times, five years apart.
You Should Know: If you have kidney disease, have had your spleen removed, have HIV or an overall weak immune system, you might qualify for a vaccine before the age of 65. And if you have diabetes, lung or liver disease, you may also qualify to take it earlier. The vaccines do not contain a live virus so they will not cause actual pneumonia. They are strictly protective vaccines.
(Brand name Zostavax®;
Protects against herpes zoster)
For Whom: Ages 60+
The shingles virus, also known as herpes zoster, is an extremely painful skin rash that typically appears on one side of the face or body. It occurs when the chickenpox virus starts up again in your body and is highly contagious when legions are active. The risk of zoster increases with increasing age.
You Should Know: This is a live virus vaccine so if you have a weakened immune system – perhaps from chemotherapy, pregnancy or HIV, you should not get the vaccine. Otherwise, it is relatively safe.
Vaccine: Td and Tdap
(Protects against tetanus,
diptheria) and Tdap (For tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
For Whom: Everyone
You only need one lifetime dose of the Tdap vaccine; you should get the Td booster every 10 years. The Tdap is especially important for adults who have close contact with infants and young children as pertussis (whooping cough) is highly contagious.
You Should Know: The risk of tetanus depends, somewhat, on lifestyle. If you work outside and step on a nail, for instance, not having the tetanus shot predisposes you to bacteria that causes paralysis.
Everyone over the age of six months, including pregnant women and excluding those who have demonstrated an allergy to a prior injection of the vaccine, should be vaccinated for the flu annually: anytime after mid-October is best.
The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine became available in stages, starting in 1963 with the measles. So it’s quite possible that you’ve never received this vaccine. Ask your physician to check for “titers” in your blood which measure immunity. The MMR is a live vaccine so if you have a weakened immune system, you should not get this vaccine.
Talk to your physician about whether you’re a candidate for the Hepatitis A and B vaccines. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver and may result from “risky” behavior. There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C, D or E but the A and B vaccines are safe and effective.
Consult your doctor about the vaccines you may need for certain travel, such as to Africa.
According to what Dr. Maltese sees in her practice, most people are pretty good about getting their vaccines except for the shingles and Tdap. “People think that since they had chicken pox as a kid, they don’t need the shingles vaccine. But that’s not true. They do need it.” People also tend not to be up to date on tetanus shots. So review which vaccines you may need with your physician. There’s no reason to risk getting a vaccine-preventable disease if you are a good candidate for the vaccination.