Winter is around the corner, and we will soon see an annual increase in respiratory illnesses. The Covid-19 pandemic has dominated news headlines for three years, but it isn't the only illness threatening our health.
Respiratory illnesses like Covid-19, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) spike each winter.
Vaccines exist for Covid-19 and influenza that effectively prevent hospitalization and death.
Other vaccines, such as those for tetanus, shingles, and pneumonia, are highly effective at preventing disease and reducing complications.
Many people missed their yearly doctor appointments due to the fear of Covid or loss of health insurance, and now they are behind schedule for their adult vaccines. Below are five vaccines for adults, their uses, and their indications.
Adult vaccines to know
Covid-19 struck early in 2020, and the world will never be the same. According to the World Health Organization, the disease has killed over 6.5 million people worldwide and still heavily burdens the American healthcare system today. There are four brands of Covid vaccine approved in the US:
Pfizer-BioNTech – mRNA vaccine – available for initial series and booster doses.
Moderna – mRNA vaccine – available for initial series and booster doses.
Janssen – Viral vector vaccine – available for initial series and booster doses (but mRNA bivalent booster is strongly recommended).
Novavax – Protein subunit vaccine – available for initial series and booster doses (but mRNA bivalent booster is strongly recommended).
Each of these vaccines offers significant protection against hospitalization and death from Covid-19, each with different side effects and considerations.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are hospitalized with the flu yearly, and around 30,000 die from the infection each year. As with most infectious diseases, the very young and the very old – as well as pregnant and immunocompromised people — are at the greatest risk.
Like Covid, influenza has multiple vaccines for those aged 18-64. Each one effectively reduces the risk of severe illness and death; thus, the CDC does not distinguish between the three. These options include:
- Inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV).
- Recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV).
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV).
For those 65 and older, the CDC strongly recommends higher-dose flu vaccines, which offer better protection. Higher dose options include:
- Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine.
- Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine.
- Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine.
150,000 Americans are hospitalized annually with pneumococcal disease, an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Common sites of infection include the ear, sinuses, lungs, or blood. Multiple pneumococcal vaccines are available, but only PCV15, PCV20, and PPSV23 are indicated for adults.
According to the CDC, PCV15 or PCV20 should be given to:
- Adults 65 years or older.
- Adults 19 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions or risk factors.
It is important to note that PCV15 requires an additional dose of PPSV23 for any adult over 19.
The two-dose Shingrix series is a vaccine that prevents herpes zoster (shingles) infection and associated complications. Shingle is an infection of the nerves caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox – that causes painful blisters on the skin. This nerve pain can remain for months, long after the blisters have healed.
This vaccine series is recommended for anyone over 50, regardless of chickenpox history or vaccine history, and does not require a blood test.
Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
Tetanus is a severe bacterial infection that causes muscle spasms, paralysis, and death. Thanks to robust vaccination efforts that started in the 1940s, tetanus disease are rare in the US Today. There are two kinds of tetanus vaccines available for adults:
- Tetanus (Td).
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis [Whooping Cough] (Tdap).
As the name implies, Tdap offers protection against two additional diseases: diphtheria and pertussis. Diptheria is another deadly bacterial infection, while pertussis is primarily dangerous for babies.
The Tdap vaccine is recommended for all adults over 19 at least once in their life. After that, a booster dose of either Td or Tdap is recommended every 10 years.
Many effective vaccines are available to help combat deadly diseases and keep our families and communities safe.
Remember to ask your primary care physician about which vaccines you are eligible for at your next appointment.
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