4 Essential Vaccines You Should Consider This Year
Staying up to date on these shots is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health
The big health news this year? It’s all about waiting patiently for our turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In the meantime, there are four other shots that can protect you from a variety of serious illnesses. They’re a super important part of staying healthy right now.
Case in point: shingles, an illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same one that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child—as most people who grew up before the chickenpox vaccine debuted in 1995 did—this virus is still dormant in your body. And for one in three people, it can reappear years later in the form of shingles, which has been described as a pain comparable to childbirth. Yikes.
So it’s no surprise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, for all adults older than 50. It’s more than 90% effective at preventing the disease.
“I talk to all of my older patients about the shingles vaccine,” says Sterling Ransone, M.D., a family doctor in Deltaville, Virginia, and a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “After all, shingles can be a debilitating condition—for some people, it causes chronic pain that can last for decades.”
Do you have an annual exam coming up? Talk to your health care provider about ensuring you’re up to date on these essential vaccines.
Essential Vaccine #1: Flu
You know the symptoms—feverish chills, sniffling, sneezing, a sore throat, and aches and pains that leave you flat on your back. Most people get over it, but the flu is highly contagious and can be deadly for certain groups of people, so adding this to the top of your vaccination list is a must.
“Everybody six months and older should get vaccinated against seasonal flu, especially now in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” says Ann Marie Pettis, RN, director of infection prevention at the University of Rochester Medicine-Highland Hospital and president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. “Often, coronavirus symptoms are almost identical to early flu symptoms, so it’s important to rule out flu whenever possible.”
Who needs it: Everyone, but especially adults ages 65 and older, or anyone with a chronic lung condition, heart disease, or diabetes. If you’re an older adult, your doctor may want you to have a high-dose vaccine.
When to get it: Because the vaccine takes a few weeks to become effective, get it as soon as it’s available in your area; the best time is usually September or October. But if you miss it in fall, don’t worry: Just make sure you get it later in the season.
Essential Vaccine #2: Tdap or Td Booster
This vaccine protects against three potentially deadly diseases:
- Tetanus, which causes painful muscle stiffness and can lead to difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Diphtheria, which may lead to heart failure or paralysis
- Pertussis, or whooping cough, which causes violent, uncontrollable coughing that can make breathing a struggle
Diphtheria and pertussis can spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing; tetanus is transmitted through breaks in the skin.
Who needs it: Everyone.
When to get it: If you’ve never had a Tdap shot, get one as soon as possible. If you’ve previously had one, get a Td booster every 10 years. And if you get a severe cut or burn, but can’t remember the last time you received either vaccination, check in with your doctor straight away.
Essential Vaccine #3: Chickenpox and Shingles
Both of these conditions have the same culprit: the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). After having chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the body and can flare up as shingles later in life.
Who needs it: If you had chickenpox (varicella) as a kid, you probably remember it as an itchy, miserable week of your life. If you didn’t have it, you’ll need a chickenpox vaccine now. And if you’re 50 or older, experts recommend two doses of Shingrix, which provides long-lasting protection. If you’ve had a different version of the shingles shot, your doctor may recommend that you get revaccinated.
When to get it: Talk to your doctor about when to schedule this vaccine if you’re also planning to get a COVID vaccine around the same time.
Essential Vaccine #4: Pneumonia
The pneumococcal vaccine protects against dangerous infections of the bloodstream and lungs, including pneumonia. Pneumococcal disease is common in kids—but it can be extremely dangerous in older adults.
Who needs it: All adults ages 65 and older, and some younger people (with certain health conditions).
When to get it: You’ve most likely already been vaccinated, but it’s important to check with your provider to be sure. There are two different pneumococcal vaccines available: PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). Many adults ages 65 and older get a dose of each, spaced at least a year apart. But depending on your age and health history, your doctor may recommend a different vaccination schedule.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. To limit the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked per CDC guidelines. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department.