By Mary Wade Triplett
When I started working at Monongalia County Health Department a couple of years ago, I needed to make sure I was up to date on certain vaccines. So I called my mother, who said I had been given “all of them.” While I’m sure my parents were vigilant in keeping me vaccinated—and I definitely remember some teary moments at the pediatrician’s office getting some shots—I needed a more specific answer.
Calling the school nurse in my county didn’t yield any information, unfortunately, because those records were long gone.
That meant I was in for some vaccines. And then measles went from being a disease declared eradicated in 2000 in the United States to one with an outbreak status. I was glad to know I was protected.
I know a lot of people are in the same position as I am. My mom wasn’t the only one who didn’t write down all the vaccines I got. Plus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you were born after 1957, you need at least one dose of measles vaccine unless a laboratory confirms that you had measles in the past or are immune to measles.
Even though I wasn’t fond of vaccines, I already had begun getting an annual flu inoculation so I could make sure to stay as healthy as possible and spend time around my dad, who had emphysema.
I continue to get vaccinated against influenza every year, in early fall. I know that a bout with the flu is no fun and that if I come down with it, not only will I miss work, but it also will take me a while to get back up to speed with other activities as well.
The toll that vaccine-preventable illnesses can take on us—especially as we get older—is a great reason to brush up on what inoculations you might still need as an adult.
Take influenza. In 2018-19, the United States experienced a mild flu season, following the severe one from the year before. However, the CDC still estimates that between Oct. 1, 2018 and May 4, 2019, there were 37.4 million to 42.9 million flu illnesses; 17.3 million to 20.1 million flu-related medical visits, 531,000 to 647,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 36,400 to 61,200 flu-related deaths.
CDC estimates that flu has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010.
Most of these people are adults, although the 2017-18 flu season was an especially bad one for children too. Just about everyone over the age of 6 months can get the flu vaccination. Those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems should line up for a shot if they can, because they can be more susceptible to illness. You can discuss this with your health care provider.
But flu isn’t the only disease to keep at bay with vaccines. About 900,000 people get pneumococcal pneumonia every year, leading to as many as 400,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths. And in 2016, there were 20,900 new cases of Hepatitis B, which can lead to complications including liver cancer. West Virginia has the highest rate of Hepatitis B cases in the country. And like Hepatitis A—the disease that West Virginia health officials are battling in an outbreak—Hepatitis B is vaccine-preventable.
And annually, there are approximately 1 million cases of shingles, which usually manifests as a painful, blistering rash on the body and sometimes on half of the face. About 10-15 percent of people who get shingles experience postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is severe pain in the areas where the shingles rash occurred.
Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus remains dormant in your body and can emerge as a case of the shingles, often when you are older.
Luckily, there is a way to help avoid these illnesses—through vaccination. Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine that has been found to be more than 90 percent effect, is recommended by the CDC for people 50 and older and is available at MCHD Clinical Services.
Unfortunately, not all adults know about their risks for these illnesses. Or they are so busy with their jobs and their families they do not take the time to protect themselves. The number of people getting the shingles vaccine has been rising since the original vaccine, Zostavax, was introduced in 2006. But in 2016, that rate for those over the age of 60 getting the vaccine was still only 33.4 percent.
Certain vaccines are recommended based on a person’s age, occupation or health conditions, such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or heart disease.
Also, if you travel, you might need vaccines depending on where you plan to go. That’s where MCHD Clinical Services’ International Travel Clinic can help. County Health Officer Dr. Lee B. Smith, a frequent traveler himself, can help determine what vaccines you need—as well as provide other useful information—depending on your destination.
All adults should have their immunization needs assessed by a health provider, including expectant mothers, who can receive the flu vaccine during any trimester of pregnancy. And if you are pregnant or going to be around babies and young children, a Tdap vaccine not only offers protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, but also offers a safety net to the infants and toddlers against the latter illness, also known as whooping cough. Whooping cough is usually much more serious for babies who are too young for vaccination, and a case of it can result in hospitalization and even death.
If you are unsure which vaccinations you need, the CDC offers a short quiz at that will guide you. Remember, your physician or health care provider also can be of help when deciding which inoculations you should get and when.
And if you to get your vaccines at MCHD Clinical Services, call 304-598-5119 to make an appointment.