Why Your Doc Should Know About Your Next Vaccine

Adults may consider getting vaccinations to prevent much more than just the flu.

Vaccinations protecting against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and whooping cough (all in one vaccine), pneumonia and shingles are among the other most common shots received by adults, according to Dee Ann Bialecki-Haase, MD, a family medicine doctor with ProMedica Physicians.

How Immune Deficiencies Affect Vaccines

There are important factors for adults to consider when getting vaccinations — particularly “live” or activated forms — such as the vaccine for shingles, she says.

“It’s important they have a normal immune system,” Dr. Bialecki-Haase says. “Adults that don’t have a normal immune system — maybe they’re getting treatment for cancer or have an immune deficiency — are at risk of getting an infection from what they’re getting vaccinated against.”

Many adults may not realize they have a compromised immune system. Because a patient is no longer required to obtain a prescription for a shingles vaccination, a pharmacy’s normal practice is to simply to ask a question.

“I’ve spoken to a few pharmacy staff members, and their process is to ask the patient if they’ve had the vaccination before,” Dr. Bialecki-Haase says. “But patients are not always reliable.”

Documenting Your Vaccines

Ohio ImpactSIIS is an online database hosted by the Ohio Department of Health for tracking immunizations. It’s a good tool, but not often utilized by pharmacies.

At the age of 65, adults are encouraged to get vaccinated (with both PREVNAR13 and PNEUMOVAX 23) against pneumonia. Those with normal immune systems should not require a booster shot, while at-risk individuals may be required to get another vaccine every five years, on average.

Dr. Bialecki-Haase says it’s also important to start with PREVNAR13 first, because PNEUMOVAX23 can then be taken two months later. If PNEUMOVAX23 is taken first, a patient must wait one year to have the other vaccine to best protect against pneumonia.

“Patients need to know what vaccines they’ve had, and many times their physicians are happy to provide a record,” she says. “They really should discuss what vaccines they need with their nurse practitioner or physician, so if they choose to go to a pharmacy to get it, they should know exactly what to be asking for.”

Although most times a primary care provider can administer the vaccination, some may choose to go elsewhere for cost or convenience.

“That’s fine, but you should at least do it in conjunction and under advice of your primary care provider,” Dr. Bialecki-Haase says.

Vaccine Recommendations

It’s important to take vaccination recommendations seriously because, in the case of pneumonia, for example, older adults have a greater chance of requiring hospitalization with pneumonia than would a younger person.

A one-time shingles vaccination at the age of 50 decreases the risk of getting shingles by 50 percent, Dr. Bialecki-Haase explains. Shingles, a flare-up of a former chickenpox infection, can be accompanied by significant amount of pain, which lasts for varying amounts of time.

By far the most common vaccination, the flu vaccine, is recommended to everyone six months and older.

Recent recommendations call for tetanus booster shots (with protection against pertussis) to be given to all pregnant women with each pregnancy to help protect their infant against pertussis, which can result in hospitalization in the youngest children who are not fully vaccinated.

For more information, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.