Vaccination For Retirees

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Vaccination updates are an essential part of preventive health care, to help us and those around us avoid discomfort, disruption, or death.  For us retired folks, three stand out:  the annual flu shot, the Shingrix series of two for shingles, and the new pneumonia shot.  You can get them at the drug store if they have a pharmacist who has the ability, or at your doctor’s office.

I’m not a licensed medical anything so check with your doctor to be sure that you are getting the best vaccine for your needs.

It’s not the old days any more

In the good old days, the one shot everybody got was the flu shot.  Maybe you didn’t bother; you weren’t risking much personally if you were in good health.  As the years wore on, however, the flu got somewhat harder to get over.  And there was the little matter of causing others to catch it if you had it.  So smart employers often set up flu shot clinics, or sent you to one run by health care providers.  It usually didn’t cost you anything.

Maybe, like I did, you got the old shingles shot after age 50 and a pneumonia shot sometime as well.  Chances are those are not helping any more.

For example, I have a history of chicken pox so I got the shingles shot several years ago.  Ditto the pneumonia shot, which I had at the hospital when I was in for something unrelated.  They gave me my flu shot that year, too.

Resistance to vaccination

Some folks don’t feel comfortable with getting vaccinated.  There’s the idea that if you get a flu shot it gives you the flu.  It doesn’t, really, but it does activate your immune system.  For easy people like me, there’s a little warmth at the site of the injection.  My husband, however, gets chills and a little achy and draggy, though not like he gets when he really has the flu.  He’s on the other end of the reactivity spectrum from me.

At our age we really don’t have to worry about becoming autistic or having damaged babies any more.  It’s a matter of staying healthy for ourselves and for those around us.

What are the risks of not getting vaccinated?

The flu is a big deal.  In the 2017-2018 year the flu killed over 80,000 people in the US alone.  A century before the great epidemic carried off  50 million people around the world, or one in ten infected.

Pneumonia takes the lives of people weakened by other illnesses, such as cancer, COPD, or heart disease, more easily than it does healthy people.  Over a quarter million people get pneumonia each year and about 50,000 die annually of it.

The pneumonia shots now being prescribed counter bacterial pneumonia.  There are also viral and fungal varieties of pneumonia, but we can vaccinate against the bacterial kinds, so we do.  They’re the usual opportunists that make people sick from going to hospitals and clinics.

Many of us will have had the PPSV23 shot, and that’s good.  But my doctor wants to give me the next one, PCV13, to protect better against Streptococcus pneumoniae infections, which can not only cause pneumonia but also infections of the bloodstream and even meningitis.

Shingles really hurts

Shingles is a painful rash that sets your nerves to thinking they’re on fire, according to a friend who had it.  If you had chicken pox as a child, and many of us did, you have what it takes to get shingles in later life.  Shingles comes on when your immune system is weakened, like with cancer or cancer treatment or anti-rejection drugs for someone with a transplanted organ.  It’s more common with elders.

Though shingles usually forms on the body, it sometimes forms its rash on one’s head and can endanger eyesight.  In rare cases, because the virus lives in nerve tissue, it can cause meningitis.  So it’s an important thing to be aware of.

Not only that, the rash can cause blisters and those are full of the virus, and contact with that virus can cause people who have it to get chicken pox.  So there is a public health component to this too.

Zostavax, the shingles vaccine from 2006, is a good shot but only lasts about 5 years.  The newer vaccine, Shingrix, was released in 2017 and comes in 2 doses 2-6 months apart.  It is preferred over Zostavax now. Medicare Part D covers shingles shots so check with your insurer.  That said, retail costs for two Shingrix shots can run above $300 total; Zostavax is still around and is an alternative.  It’s cheaper and may be better tolerated than Shingrix in some people.

As always, check with your doctor to see what’s right for you. 

Vaccination for health

So, as a confirmed vaxxer, my hope is that you will check this out with your doctor to see if you are up to date with vaccines.  If not, find out how best to remedy the situation.  That way, you will be better prepared to ward off these infections, save yourself some pain and discomfort, and possibly save your own life or the lives of others.

Me?  It’s time to update the vaccination record again.  I will have the PCV vaccine in February, that’s all set up with the doctor.  And I will ask her about the Shingrix as well because it’s been over 5 years from the Zostavax.  Just let me get in touch with the Part D provider and find out how much money to get out of the stash!

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