Fall vaccination roundup
A flu shot may not be enough; you may be ready for other vaccinations.
With autumn approaching, it's time to review your vaccinations and see if you need any updates. Here are the shots to consider:
Influenza: Soon it will be time to get your annual flu shot. Some people don't bother to get flu shots because they've heard that the vaccine isn't 100% effective, and because they think flu is just a mild condition. That's not the way to think about it, warns Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the infectious disease division at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School. "The flu vaccine isn't perfect, but it's 60% to 70% effective. While some years the flu is more severe than other years, we can't predict a bad year. For example, last year was significantly worse than the previous year, and the previous year was better than usual," says Dr. Sax.
The flu can be very serious. In a bad year, the CDC reports that up to 49,000 people in the United States die from the flu. By contrast, Dr. Sax notes, "The flu shot is quite safe."
Pneumonia: New this year is a recommendation to give adults with weakened immune systems the same vaccine for pneumococcal vaccine that's normally given to children, since it may stimulate their immune system response better. Otherwise, the standard version is recommended just once for adults ages 65 and older (twice if you received the first dose before age 65, and possibly more often if you have a weakened immune system).
Tetanus: You need a booster for tetanus every 10 years to prevent the muscle-tightening disease (such as lockjaw) that can result from a bad scrape. Don't remember your last booster? It's probably time to get one, and it's okay even if it's been less than 10 years.
Shingles: This vaccine protects against the varicella-zoster virus, which causes the painful, blistering rash known as shingles as well as chickenpox. The FDA has approved it for people ages 50 and older; however, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that vaccination begin at age 60. Talk to your doctor to decide if it's right for you.