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Just Say Yes to Vaccination.

Annual flu season is underway, so this month we're looking at how best you can avoid the flu or, if you catch it, manage the symptoms (see our article, opposite).

You probably know that last year's flu shot was not as effective as usual, primarily because one of the viruses in the vaccine mutated. Flu viruses constantly change--it's why the vaccine is updated each year. Scientists predict which viruses are likely to be most active during the upcoming flu season based on year-round surveillance data from more than 100 countries. However, it isn't always possible to accurately predict which strains of flu will circulate, or whether they will mutate. It also takes about six months to produce large quantities of the flu vaccine--so if a different flu virus takes hold, there isn't time to produce a new vaccine. All that said, I hope you won't be put off getting this year's flu shot. The flu can cause life-threatening complications in seniors, and even though you may be unlucky enough to catch flu after being vaccinated, the vaccine can still help protect you from these complications.

While you may associate routine vaccination with babies and young children, it's seniors who can potentially benefit most from vaccines. We're more vulnerable to infections as we get older because aging is accompanied by a progressive decline in immune function. That's where vaccines come in. They're almost a starter for the main course: by exposing the body to dead or weakened microbes, they prime the immune system for encountering the real thing later on.

The type and number of vaccines available has grown significantly in recent years. As well as updating your flu shot, you also should get immunized against pneumonia if you haven't done so already. There are two pneumonia vaccines: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine, and PCV13 (Prevnar), and Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine, or PPSV23 (Pneumovax). Seniors are advised to get both, but they can't be given at the same time. If you haven't yet had either, Prevnar is usually given first, and Pneumovax is given one year later. If you've had Pneumovax, you should get the Prevnar too, as long as it has been at least a year since you had the other vaccine.

Another vaccine I strongly recommend is the shingles vaccine. One out of three adults age 60 and older develop this painful rash (I've suffered from it myself), and some people suffer long-term nerve pain afterwards. Studies suggest that the new shingles vaccine (Shingrix) is highly effective. Also get a Tdap booster shot if you've never had one--it protects you against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). This is particularly important if you spend time around children, as you can get pertussis from them. If you've had the Tdap, schedule a tetanus booster (Td) every 10 years.

If you're unsure about whether you need an immunization, you can check at the U.S. Department of Health's vaccines website (

By Rosanne M. Leipzig, MD, PhD


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Title Annotation:FROM THE EDITOR
Author:Leipzig, Rosanne M.
Publication:Focus on Healthy Aging
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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