By Mary Wade Burnside
For The Register-Herald
As fall approaches, children returning to school are not the only people who should be thinking about vaccines.
Adults also can benefit from vaccines, and August is National Immunization Awareness Month.
Two vaccines for adults of all ages would be those that protect against tetanus and influenza.
Adults should begin their immunity against tetanus with the Tdap vaccine, said Donna Riffle, director of nursing at the Marion County Health Department. That also offers protection against diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough.
Adults should get the Tdap vaccine “especially if they are around children,” Riffle added.
Newborns cannot be vaccinated for pertussis until they reach the age of 2 months, and then they require five vaccines of DTaP (similar to Tdap but in a dosage for children). So adults who will be around young babies are encouraged to get a Tdap vaccine to help prevent babies from getting whooping cough, a contagious respiratory illness that can be spread by individuals who do not even know they have it.
After adults get one Tdap vaccine, Riffle said, every 10 years they can get a shot to prevent tetanus. Tetanus is a bacterial illness that often enters the body through a wound and can be poisonous and cause muscle stiffness, including in the jaw, which leads to the term “lockjaw” as a potential result of having tetanus.
As for the influenza vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) recommends that anyone ages 6 months and older should get it unless they have a contraindication to it, such as a severe allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous flu shot.
Adults with chronic diseases or who are ages 50 and older are especially encouraged to get the flu shot as well.
In recent years, the vaccine has been widely available in the United States to anyone who wants it, through county health departments, physician offices and pharmacies. The vaccine also has been available earlier in the season, and Riffle.
Typically, flu season peaks in West Virginia in February or March, but it has been known to hit both earlier and later.
Usually, flu vaccine has been formulated by the manufacturers to help prevent three strains of flu, two A strains and one B strain. This year, however, in addition to trivalent vaccine, there will be quadrivalent, which offers protection against four strains of flu.
The reason certain manufacturers have different types of flu vaccine is because some did not get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the quadrivalent as others did, said Jeff Neccuzi, director of the Division of Immunization Services with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, part of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) has not stated if or how providers should prioritize quadrivalent flu vaccines for certain populations,” Neccuzi said. “I cannot speak to whether or not the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health will make any such recommendation.”
However, he added, other times there have been vaccines that offer varying levels of protection against strains of a disease, such as the vaccine for human pappillomavirus (HPV).
“The ACIP has not yet formally published influenza recommendations for the 2013-14 flu season,” Neccuzi said.
However, late last week, the CDC did provide a summary to state health departments.
“The Bureau for Public Health will soon announce its recommendations to local health departments,” he added.
Another vaccine that adults should consider is one for pneumonia, Riffle said.
Adults who get their first pneumovax vaccine before the age of 65 should get a second one after the age of 65, Riffle said.
The CDC website states that the vaccine is recommended for adults 65 and older as well as individuals ages 2 and up who have a compromised immune system, with a condition such as sickle cell disease or HIV. It also is recommended for adults ages 19 to 64 who either smoke or have asthma, the CDC states.
A vaccine for shingles is available to individuals ages 60 and older. The CDC recommends the vaccine for people 60 and older but the FDA has approved it for those 50 and older as well.
Anyone who ever had chickenpox can get shingles, in which painful blisters erupt on the skin.
“It’s the same virus,” Riffle said. “Once you’ve recovered from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body and is dormant, and for some people it can reactivate.”
However, the CDC recommends that individuals who qualify should get the vaccine even if they do not recall having the chickenpox.
People who should not get the shingles vaccine include those with weakened immune systems and women who are pregnant, according to the CDC.