Doctor In Your House: The importance of vaccinations

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After fresh running water, vaccinations have had the second largest positive impact upon human lifespan. Vaccines help us to prevent deaths from pneumonia, flu, hepatitis, diphtheria, whooping cough, meningitis, cervical cancer and much more.

What’s the latest information on the flu vaccine?

The common myth that people can get the flu from the flu vaccine is simply not true. The flu vaccine contains four strains and is approved for ages 6 months and older. The flu shot is typically administered by injection, but there is a nasal spray live attenuated vaccine that is available and is approved for ages 2 to 49. A vaccine is approved for patients with egg allergy, but it is only approved for ages 18 to 49. Finally, a high dose flu vaccine is indicated for age 65 or older. This vaccine increases the immune response against the flu, but it has not been proven yet to be more effective. The side effects are mildly increased.

The most vulnerable groups include the elderly, pregnant women and individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and emphysema. The vaccine may be 40-70 percent effective. Thirty thousand Americans die from the flu every year due to complications of the flu such as pneumonia. Side effects include a sore arm, fever and body aches. The benefits far exceed the risks. Autism is unrelated and Guillan-Barre, a rare neurologic condition, is unlikely related to the flu vaccine.

Can shingles be prevented?

Zostavax, the shingles vaccine, helps to prevent shingles or at least reduces the severity of the disease. This illness results from incubating chicken pox virus. It migrates into the spinal cord after causing a rash. Years later, it manifests as a blistering painful rash that is often located on the trunk but it may affect the eye 10 % of the time and cause blindness. Many patients can get post herpetic neuralgia or chronic nerve pain resulting from shingles. Almost every person age 50 or older has had the chicken pox at some point in their lives even if it is not remembered.

Zostavax is a live attenuated vaccine that is indicated at age 50 and older. It can reduce the incidence of shingles by 70 % at age 50. It should not be given to people who are immunocompromised. Headache and arm soreness are the two most common side effects. The cost varies depending on your insurance coverage but cost averages a little over $200. I recommend this vaccine as an excellent investment in your health.

Should I get the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine?

The tetanus/pertussis vaccine (Adacel or Boostrix) should be given to all seniors at least once even if a recent tetanus vaccine has been administered. Each dose contains both tetanus and pertussis. By vaccinating seniors, their grandchildren will be at lower risk of contracting this highly contagious disease that can lead to pneumonia. Often young grandchildren haven’t yet completed their pertussis vaccinations, and they are more vulnerable to exposure.

Given that last year was one of the worst years ever for whooping cough, the CDC may recommend it every 10 years in the future.

Doctor’s Summary: These vaccinations and others can have a major impact upon the health and well being of you and your family. See your doctor at your earliest convenience to be vaccinated.


Evan Lipkis, MD, is a physician, author and lecturer based in Glenview, Illinois. The advice contained in this column is for informational purposes only. Readers should consult with their physician to evaluate any illness or medical condition. Contact Dr. Lipkis through his website at