vaccines

Immunizations don’t stop once you leave school, according to Christa O’Neal, immunization specialist with West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. In fact, they never stop from birth to death.

Although it’s still summer, it’s never too early to begin thinking about influenza shots, among other preventative shots for adults.

“You continue to need immunizations, from school to teens to young adults and into your senior years,” O’Neal said to the Sulphur Kiwanis Club last Wednesday.

“Flu vaccine is recommended every year. The thing is, the vaccine changes from year to year,” O’Neal said. “Some times they get it right … some times they don’t. Flu mutates a lot, so here lately, the vaccines haven’t been as effective as we would like them to be.”

Companies who manufacture and distribute flu vaccines will research exactly what strains are reoccurring worldwide and design the vaccine based on this information prior to the strains hitting the United States.

One of the most prevalent maladies for those in the increasing senior age group is shingles. The Shingrix vaccine is relatively new on the market, but is different from previous shingles vaccines — such as Zoster — which were live virus vaccines. Shingrix is not, according to O’Neal.

Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have concluded that Shingrix is effective enough to recommend this particular brand of vaccine to guard against shingles outbreaks.

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a very painful rash. According to The Mayo Clinic, shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years or decades later, the virus may reactivate as shingles. The Shingrix vaccine can help reduce the risk.

O’Neal said it’s recommended that if you’ve been vaccinated with Zoster that you also receive the more effective Shingrix immunization. The shingles vaccine is suggested for those age 50 and above.

For senior age group, there is another vaccine available to make life easier. According to the CDC, there are over 90 strains of Pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and blood stream infections — especially in the elderly.

“It’s recommended if you are 65 years or older that you get the two pneumonia vaccines,” O’Neal said. “One vaccinates against 13 strains of the disease and the other protects against 23 strains. However, if you are younger than 65 but you suffer from health-related issues, it is recommended you also receive the pneumonia vaccine.”

As a reminder, O’Neal suggested that adults also receive a Tdap vaccine if they’ve never had one. Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects against three potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). This is in addition to receiving a regular tetanus shot once every 10 years until death. If you’re a new grandparent or giving care to a child as an older adult, you should receive the Tdap booster at least once while addressing a tetanus vaccine.

O’Neal suggests that prior to receiving vaccines check with Medicare or health insurance companies as to what vaccines they cover and when. “As an example there are certain vaccines that take more than one dose and it’s designed to be given within a time frame. I know that Medicare is very stringent on sticking to that time frame.”

As another example, the newer vaccines such as the Zoster, are subjected to guidelines by health care coverage.