Vaccinations for adults

Jun 28, 2013

Most parents are very aware that public health officials recommend certain vaccines for their children. But many adults have no idea what immunizations and booster shots they should be getting themselves. Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, hosts of WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," spoke with Dr. Carolyn Bridges of the Centers for Disease Control about vaccines for adults, particularly seniors.

Lorraine Rapp: Would you explain how vaccines work and what actually takes place in the body?

Dr. Bridges: So the whole idea behind vaccines is that you develop antibody or protection against diseases without actually having to get sick. So you get a vaccine, that vaccine has antigens or components of the vaccine that actually mimic the disease. So your body makes the antibody so that when you get exposed to the actual bacteria or virus, you already have some protection there and you either don't get sick or you don't get as sick as you would if you didn't have any antibody.

Linda Lowen: Currently what vaccines are recommended for adults?

Dr. Bridges: Well, there are some vaccines that all adults need. So every adult should be getting an influenza vaccine every year and then adults should be getting the tetanus booster every 10 years. And at least one of those tetanus boosters should be something we call Tdap, which is the vaccine that prevents against tetnus, diptheria, as well as pertussis, or whooping cough. So you would have gotten those vaccines as a child, but then your immunity or level of protection starts to go down over time. Then there are other vaccines that are new like the Zoster vaccine. This vaccine prevents against shingles and this vaccine is recommended by the CDC to start by age 60 because your risk of getting shingles goes up as you age. Another vaccine that many adults are recommended to receive is the new pneumococcal vaccine. Everyone 65 and older should get the new pneumococcal vaccine but the new vaccine, the pneumococcal 13 valent conjugate vaccine was just recommended for adults about a year ago. So the vaccine recommendations change over time, they get updated as we get new science and new vaccines become available, so it's really important to keep up and have a continuing dialogue with your physician, your healthcare providers and your pharmacist to help you stay up on which vaccines you're recommended to receive.

Lorraine Rapp: There are some people that believe that a healthy immune system is enough to fight off viruses. Very often, they're thinking of the flu shot, and they think it might be preferable to getting the vaccine for it. How do you respond to that?

Dr. Bridges: Well, you know, influenza is really one of those equal opportunity pathogens. Flu viruses are really tricky because they, you know, change all the time which is why we have to update the vaccine almost every single year. So the amount of antibodies you have from prior infections of influenza or prior vaccines may not be effective against new flu viruses that are circulating. Now, everyone can be susceptible to influenza. The percentage of people who get infected can really quite vary from year to year and the best way to decrease your risk is to get a flu vaccine. Vaccinating yourself cannot only help decreasing your risk but can decrease the risk for flu of people around you. Not getting vaccinated, you're taking a chance of certainly having yourself get sick and or passing it off to somebody else.

That was Dr. Carolyn Bridges of the CDC speaking with Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen. More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m.  Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.