Vaccinations You Need: Pneumococcal, Zostavax, and Influenza

DSC03989-BWIn recent months, a great deal of attention has been paid to the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine, mainly because of the rapid spread of whooping cough, or pertussis, a preventable disease that can be very severe, even in teenagers and adults. While we encourage all CDC recommended vaccinations, including Tdap, Meritage would like to focus on some of the other necessary and recommended vaccinations, such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, Zostavax, and influenza vaccinations.


Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine

The Center for Disease Controls’ Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all children under the age of 5 and adults with certain risk factors, such as compromised immune systems, receive this vaccine.

The most common, serious disease that this vaccine can help prevent is pneumococcal pneumonia. This is essentially a lung infection, which can include symptoms like fever, chills, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and painful coughing.

Pneumococcus can also cause ear infections, sinus infections, and meningitis, which is an infection of the meninges, protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord. It is also possible for pneumococcus to cause bacteremia, which is a blood stream infection. Meningitis is very severe – about 1 out of 10 children who get this illness when they are younger than 5 will die from this infection – and 4 out of 100 children who have bacteremia will die from it. These risks can be mitigated by receiving the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

Prevention against 13 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria is provided by the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Those who are at high risk for these diseases, who are 2 years of age and older, and all adults 65 and older can receive the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. This is also recommended for those between ages 19 and 64 who smoke and/or have asthma.


Zostavax or Herpes Zoster Vaccine

Zostavax is the only US licensed vaccine that is used to prevent shingles. This vaccine is recommended for adults 60 years old and over. This vaccine is specifically used to prevent against shingles and will not protect against other forms of herpes. This vaccination is only needed one time, and you are never too old to receive it.

Anyone who has had chicken pox (which includes the vast majority of us) is at risk for developing shingles. The risk of contracting shingles increases as people age, but it can develop at anytime. Shingles is a painful skin rash, most often presenting along with blisters, that is caused by the varicella zoster virus – the same one that causes chicken pox.This virus remains in the cells of your body long after the chicken pox themselves have disappeared; this is why it is recommended to receive the vaccination if you have had chicken pox previously.

Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the US will develop shingles, primarily older men and women. Early symptoms of the disease include itching and tingling skin. The rash then starts, with blisters forming then scabbing over within 7 to 10 days. The rash usually occurs in a single stripe across one side of the body. Other symptoms include fever, chills, and headache.

The most common, serious complication of shingles usually occurs in people 60 or older, and this is called post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN. PHN causes severe pain where the rash was located, even after it clears up. Pain can exist for many years, in some people. Additionally, it may lead to complications involving the eyes.

Zostavax, a shingles vaccine, has not be identified with any serious problems or complications and has been deemed safe. Anyone 60 or older should receive this vaccine, but it is not recommended for anyone who has a weakened immune system because of treatments for conditions like HIV/AIDS or cancer.


Influenza Vaccine

DSC03508-CShould you vaccinate against the flu? Influenza, the contagious respiratory illness more commonly known as the flu, can cause mild to very severe illness. Every flu season is different, and the flu affects everyone differently. You may not think it’s a serious problem to be inconvenienced with coughing, chills, and a sore throat, but for someone else, it could be life threatening. About 90 percent of deaths from the flu occur in those 65 and older, and almost half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in that same age group.

With many different types of flu virus circulating in the general population, receiving an annual seasonal vaccine will not only reduce your chances of getting the flu, but of you passing it along to an at-risk person or group of people as well.

There are currently a few different options for vaccination.Trivalent vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses are available. There are also quadrivalent vaccines available that are made to protect against four different flu viruses.There are standard dose trivalent shots, recommended for those aged 6 months or older, and a high dose shot, approved for those 65 and older. The quadrivalent vaccine available is a standard dose shot, and it is also available as a nasal spray.


Even though there has been a lot of negative talk in the media about vaccines, the simple truth is that they are an integral part of keeping yourself and those around you in good health. Stay informed about the facts, and talk to your health care provider about what vaccines you should be receiving so that you can stay on track and maintain the highest standard of health possible.

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