Staying on top of recommended vaccinations can protect you and your family against a number of preventable diseases.

Immunizations have the ability to protect your family and yourself against a number of preventable diseases and infections. The vaccines available today prevent dangerous or even deadly diseases from spreading and can safeguard people of all ages that would otherwise be susceptible to these outbreaks. For these reasons, the importance of immunizations is hard to overstate.

Pharmacies offer a comprehensive, cost-effective menu of available immunizations, and resources are easily accessible. Recommended vaccines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at www.cdc.gov are a great reference for both adults and children to ensure that our communities stay protected against outbreaks of serious disease that include flu, pneumonia, shingles and whooping-cough.

Flu (influenza)

The flu can prove deadly in some instances, but can be regularly addressed each year with an immunization. Getting an annual immunization is often necessary due to subtle changes in different virus strains each year. Two types of vaccines can be administered: a flu shot made with inactivated (killed) flu virus for healthy people older than 6 months, which is offered in three different delivery formulas (regular, high-dosage or intradermal); and a nasal spray that is a live, weakened flu vaccine intended for healthy people between ages 2-49. Call your pharmacist first to check on availability.

Pneumonia

According to the CDC, pneumonia causes more deaths globally than any other infectious disease. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs usually brought about by viruses or bacteria. While pneumonia is preventable, it can prove fatal if not protected against or treated. Currently, there are two types of pneumococcal vaccines. PVC13, which protects against 13 common viral strains, is typically given to infants at months 2, 4, 6, and 1215 (who are most susceptible to serious diseases caused by pneumococcal infection), along with some older children or adults. The second type, PPSV, protects against 23 pneumococcal strains and is recommended for all adults age 65 and older, in addition to anyone with certain long-term health conditions (asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and others or drug/treatment regimens causing low resistance to infection) that’s between 2-64 years of age. Any adult 19-64 years of age who is a smoker or has asthma should also receive PPSV.

Chickenpox & Shingles

Both chickenpox and shingles are infections caused by the same virus (varicella zoster) and cause skin rash, blisters, fever and other symptoms that range from mild to severe. The effects of chickenpox can be prevented or lessened through immunization. The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents and adults. For children, the first dose should be received at 12-15 months and the second at 4-6 years of age. Shingles appears in people who have previously had chickenpox. The cause of shingles is a reactivation of the virus later in life, and if left unchecked, it can result in postherpetic neuralgia (severe pain in the areas where the rash appears), potential blindness or even death. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people age 60 and older; it’s a one-time immunization that can also help prevent reoccurrences of shingles for people who already have it. Doctors may also recommend the vaccine for those who are younger and at risk of contracting the virus.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Highly contagious, whooping-cough is particularly dangerous for young children, especially those too young to be vaccinated. The childhood vaccine, DTaP (which also prevents diptheria and tetanus), should be administered in five doses at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age, then at 4-6 years. A single dose of the Tdap vaccine is administered to adolescents ages 11-18 years old and adults 19 and older; this is especially important for any person that will be in close contact with infants. The CDC endorses a strategy called cocooning, in which a baby’s family, caregivers, health care providers and anyone else near the baby are vaccinated to protect the infant from infection. Studies have shown that, in around 80% of cases, a baby that caught whooping-cough had been infected by someone in the baby’s household. Cocooning doesn’t provide full protection against whooping-cough, so a pregnant mother should also consult with her doctor on how to further shield the unborn child against infection. One alternative is a Tdap vaccination administered to the mother at 27-36 weeks, which can pass on protection to the baby until the baby’s first immunization date at 2 months of age.

Studies have shown that, in around 80% of cases, a baby that caught whooping-cough had been infected by someone in the baby’s household.

Vaccines for HPV (human papillomavirus), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), meningitis, hepatitis A and B, and tetanus (needed every 9-10 years) are also widely available. Various travel vaccines should be considered at least a month in advance of traveling abroad (Visit cdc.gov/travel for a list). In general, its important to talk with your pharmacist about any needed vaccines based on history, current conditions and drug history profile. While levels of vaccine-preventable diseases have reached or are approaching record lows, the effort to maintain immunizations is vitally important to eliminate diseases and keep this public health success story going. We vaccinate to protect our future.

Lacey Garner, Pharm. D., is the Pharmacy Manager at Sam’s Club #6447 in Nashville, Tenn. She also serves as a preceptor for the Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy in Nashville. Garner earned a B.S. in Biochemistry from Freed-Hardeman University and a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Her interests include academia, health care management, immunization awareness and public health.