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Vaccination roundup

Do you need a shot for flu, shingles, or pneumonia this year?

vaccination roundup doctor patient
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Researchers here at Harvard and elsewhere are racing to find a vaccine that will protect us from Zika, the mosquito-borne illness linked to rare birth defects and to Guillain-Barré syndrome. Meanwhile, we already have vaccines to protect us against common and sometimes vicious illnesses.

Flu vaccine

This annual shot is considered a “must” for older adults, especially those with heart disease. The challenge is deciding whether to get the trivalent vaccine—a stronger dose that includes three influenza strains and may trigger an improved immune response in seniors—or the broader quadrivalent vaccine, which includes four flu strains.

“Some evidence suggests the trivalent is better, but I don’t think people should turn down the quadrivalent if it’s the only one available,” says Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

A small study published May 23, 2016, in Vaccine suggested that flu shots generate a better antibody response for older adults when given in the morning, not the afternoon. “A single study like that is not sufficient for guidelines to be changed. If you can get a shot in the morning, great, but I wouldn’t dissuade people from getting a shot in the afternoon,” says Dr. Sax. “It’s best to get the shot when you feel well. People who are sick might have an impaired immune response to the vaccine.”

Pneumococcal vaccine

This immunization protects against pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis. The CDC now recommends two pneumococcal vaccines for adults 65 and older. Get a dose of PCV13 first, followed by a dose of PPSV23 six to 12 months later. “And then you’ll need a second dose of PPSV23 five years after that,” says Dr. Sax. “It’s a two-dose vaccine.”

Shingles vaccine

The shingles vaccine (Zostavax) helps protect against the varicella-zoster virus, which causes shingles and chickenpox. The FDA recommends the shot for anyone 50 or older. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the shot for people 60 or older.

A potentially more effective shingles vaccine is still in development and not yet available. “It will be stronger, and it won’t have a live virus in it. That means some people with weak immune systems who had to avoid it will be able to get it,” says Dr. Sax. But don’t hold out if you’re eligible for the existing shot now. “We don’t know when the new vaccine is coming out. I wouldn’t wait,” he says.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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