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Ask The Doc: Adult Vaccines

Dr Khan

Knowing what vaccines to get as an adult can be confusing. Unlike young children, who follow a regimented vaccine schedule, adults don’t have a structured path to follow. We are often inundated with vaccine offers from drug stores, box stores and pharmacies. To help wade through some of the confusion, Pulse spoke with Dr. Tehmina Khan, a member of the Torrance Memorial Physician Network who is board-certified in family practice. She gave us a quick overview of what vaccines we need and when.

What vaccines do you absolutely recommend for adults?

For those over 60, I recommend the herpes zoster, or shingles, shot. For people 65 and above, I recommend getting the pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine, especially for those with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, diabetes or other chronic diseases. Adults should be vaccinated against pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. We have now found that immunity for these diseases goes down over time. The vaccine is sometimes given as the Tdap vaccine, which is a combined vaccine for pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. People should get a vaccine against tetanus every 10 years, but they need the pertussis just once. Adults should also get a flu shot every fall.

Should parents, grandparents or others responsible for childcare get special vaccines? What about vaccines during pregnancy?

Before the birth of a child, it is important for parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers—anyone who will be exposed to the newborn—to get the whooping cough vaccine. An expecting mother should get the vaccine before she becomes pregnant, as it is not recommended during pregnancy. Alternatively, she can get the vaccine right after delivery. Getting the flu shot every fall is also important for caregivers. Pregnant women can get the flu vaccine, and it is recommended that they get it seasonally. In addition, anyone who is not immune to measles, mumps and rubella (given as the MMR vaccine) needs that before becoming pregnant.

Are there any instances when someone should not get a recommended vaccine?

The flu shot is not recommended for people with AIDS, on chemotherapy or those with chronic kidney disease. With any chronic disease where the immunity is compromised, people should consult their physician before getting a vaccine.

Are there any special circumstances where additional vaccines are needed?

If going overseas, a traveler needs hepatitis A, hepatitis B if they don’t already have it, and a typhoid vaccine. If traveling to Africa, you will need the yellow fever vaccine. In some countries, you may need the meningitis vaccine, and sometimes this vaccine is recommended for young adults going to college and for those in the military. If you are bitten by a dog, there is the rabies vaccine, but very few people need this.

What reactions from the recommended vaccines should people be aware of?

With the zoster vaccine and the whooping cough/tetanus vaccine, there are no problems. People who are allergic to eggs shouldn’t be given the flu vaccine, because it is made with an egg protein, and susceptible people can have an allergic reaction to it.

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