Featured Columns

From his column To Your Health

to-your-health-03-13-1Just over two years ago, I wrote about vaccines. Updates on vaccinations—even for adults—are ongoing, so it’s a good time to revisit the topic with the focus on older folks. Of course, if you have children still at home, it is important to check with their physician through the teenage years about shots they may need.

As a child growing up many years ago, I remember the constant emphasis on vaccinations. I even remember being impacted as a child seeing the results of polio and then, in my early teens, becoming aware that a newly developed vaccine would protect us from that terrible disease. I also recall the concern about staying current with smallpox shots. I well remember receiving news while serving as a physician in Africa that we should no longer be concerned about keeping up with small pox boosters. The World Health Organization (WHO) and similar bodies had completed enough surveillance to literally declare the world free of smallpox. What a triumph!

In my work in small town hospital emergency departments, I am amazed at the number of people who ignore sound and well-researched recommendations for vaccinations. Many of the reasons they give are not based on good information. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tell us the United States “continues to have the safest vaccine supply in history.”

Over the course of my 40 years as a physician, I have seen the effects of vaccinations via decreased patient visits for debilitating illness. One type of meningitis in small children is one of the illnesses we rarely see anymore. I vividly witnessed the effects of tetanus (lockjaw) when I worked in Africa. There, I watched small children born to mothers who had never been vaccinated die before my eyes.

In the most recent update from the CDC there is a continued strong emphasis on the need for all of us to be immunized completely to contain the spread of disease. Not only do immunizations offer protection from major life threatening illnesses, they also help prevent those with whom we come in contact from getting diseases. For example, there is now a significant push for pregnant women to receive a vaccination against pertussis (whooping cough). A safe vaccine called Adacel that protects against tetanus, whooping cough, and diphtheria is available. Making certain that pregnant women and those who may come in contact with newborn children are vaccinated may be lifesaving for a newborn who cannot be immunized at birth and has no protection against whooping cough. All adults should receive Adacel at least once during the adult years.

The list of recommended vaccines has grown in the past several years (see below). It is imperative that you discuss your vaccination status for each of these with your physician and review information online.

Influenza – We hear a great deal about this each year. It is now generally recommended for everyone with few exceptions. Remember this vaccine is not 100 percent effective due to the nature of the influenza virus, but the benefits still clearly outweigh the risk for most people.

Pneumonia – Generally this is recommended for everyone once after age 65 and for some younger people. However, there now is an additional pneumonia vaccine that is recommended for some individuals in special situations. In such cases, both pneumonia vaccinations are recommended.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – This vaccine is recommended for young women, as it will decrease the risk of developing cervical cancer. Also, in some circumstances it is recommended for men.

Shingles Zoster is the vaccine that helps prevent the development of shingles. I recommend that everyone receive this at age 60 or later. This should be given even if you have had a case, since shingles can recur.

Meningitis – This vaccine prevents one type of meningitis that is most common on college campuses in dormitory settings. Inoculations for meningitis actually are required at many colleges. In some circumstances it is recommended for other adults.

Hepatitis A and B – Vaccinations for these illnesses are still recommended in many situations depending on the circumstances of life. For some occupations they are a requirement. They are highly recommended for those traveling to other world areas.

Chicken Pox – This inoculation is recommended for adults who think they may have not suffered from the disease earlier in life.

I urge you to visit the CDC website, and then visit with your physician and/or someone at your county health department. An old public health motto says it best – BE WISE... IMMUNIZE!

Dr. Paul Wardlaw is a board-certified family physician who has enjoyed the practice of medicine in various settings for 40 years.

Subscribe to eNews!