Q: I’m having anxiety from waiting for a coronavirus vaccine to become available and just hoping I don’t get sick in the meantime.
A: If you don’t want to get sick in the meantime, decrease your chances by getting any other vaccinations you may be due for now.
People have become so focused on the coronavirus, some are ignoring basic preventative healthcare, including vaccines routinely recommended by the Center for Disease Control. Other preventable diseases, such as the flu, are also potentially serious or life threatening, so don’t ignore the importance of vaccinations. Many people are staying home and/or avoiding medical offices, so even some children are missing out on important vaccinations.
Don’t delay getting vaccinations up-to-date for yourself and your children. I am referring to the CDC immunization schedules for healthy adults in this article. Everyone over the age of 6 months old should get a flu shot (for influenza) every year unless they have contraindications to getting it (such as an egg allergy).
Are you aware there are now stronger, more potent flu shots recommended for seniors 65 and older? You can ask for Fluad or Fluzone HD (high dose-4 times stronger than standard flu shots). Flu shots are not 100% effective, but these improved formulations have a much higher efficacy rate.
You want to avoid getting the flu (influenza) during this pandemic if possible. Obviously, social distancing, wearing masks and frequent hand washing for COVID-19 protection also decrease your risk. But the flu is also very contagious and flu shots are readily available.
You are more susceptible to getting pneumonia when you have the flu, and it is possible to get co-infected with the coronavirus and influenza at the same time. Either can be deadly, so the combination is obviously more risky. So I suggest you get your flu shot. They are readily available at pharmacies, doctors’ offices, even some supermarkets or workplaces. Influenza and pneumonia were the 6th leading cause of death in the US (out of the top 12). But now the CDC anticipates that COVID-19 will move into third place this year (after heart attack and cancer) so the order of the top 12 may change.
Speaking of pneumonia, the guidelines for pneumonia vaccines changed recently, so ask your doctor if you are due for the new series. There are two pneumonia vaccines, PCV-13 and PPSV23.
Ideally, if you are 65 or older, you should receive PCV-13 first, and PPSV23 one year later. If you are healthy and received a pneumonia shot before 65, you’ll need to get a second PPSV23 after 65, at least five years after the first shot. Pneumonia shots are to immunize you against pneumococcal pneumonia, but does not prevent all kinds of pneumonia. Infants, children, smokers and people with chronic medical conditions will need to have pneumonia vaccines earlier and on a different schedule, so check with your doctor. A COVID-19 infection would also make you more susceptible to pneumococcal pneumonia, which can also be deadly.
Shingles vaccination is often overlooked. Shingles is caused by the chicken pox virus you had as a child which has been lying dormant for all these years, and then erupts into painful vesicles, especially when under stress or traumatized. These lesions can cause long term debilitating pain even after they heal. You can now get the shingles (herpes zoster) vaccination, Shingrix, if you are 50 or older. You should get two shots, 2 to 6 months apart, even if you’ve had shingles, or received the old version of the shingles vaccine in the past.
Sexually transmitted infections are at an all time high now. There is one STD that can be prevented by a vaccine, HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV not only causes genital warts, it can cause cervical, vulvar, anal, and some oral cancers.
HPV vaccines are recommended for males and females 9-26 years old (the earlier the better, because it is more effective when given before ever having sexual activity and possibly being exposed to HPV). But the FDA has now approved it for use until age 45. This is one of the only vaccinations that can prevent cancer as well as viral infection and transmission to others.
Tdap is a vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). You should get at least one Tdap, even if you’ve had the traditional Td shot (tetanus-diphtheria only) within the last ten years. Then you can get either another Tdap or just Td (tetanus-diphtheria) every 10 yrs. At some point, seniors can stop getting these immunizations if they have been consistent about getting this vaccination every ten years, but you should ask your doctor before discontinuing this series.
Ask your doctor about whether you might need MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), chicken pox, Haemophilus, Hepatitis A and/or B, or meningococcal vaccinations. There are other vaccinations required for foreign travel, but no one is going anywhere anytime soon.
If you are an “anti-vaxxer,” please educate yourself about the dangers of these diseases (and COVID-19 when effective vaccines become available). Weigh the risks of the vaccines (generally low for most people) against the downside risk of contracting one of these serious diseases.
Make an informed choice instead of just an emotional one. I personally get every available vaccine as soon as I am due for one, or the recommendations change. The CDC recommendations change often so you can check this on their website, cdc.gov under immunization schedules for healthy adults and children or for those with chronic medical conditions.
I would rather have a sore arm or other minor side effects than risk getting these serious diseases.