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Adults need vaccinations, too

By on May 28, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Vaccinations to prevent various diseases are one of the great medical achievements in history. They not only have proven to be safe but also life saving. 

Historically, vaccines were deemed “only for children,” however with the continued development of effective vaccines now, many vaccinations are recommended for adults including ”seniors.” 

Recently, a 43-year-old Israeli EL AL airline flight attendant developed measles ending up in a coma for weeks after supposedly being exposed to an infected passenger or someone in New York City where the flight originated. 

Robert Murphy, M.D. professor in medicine at Northwestern University, says measles can run the spectrum from a rash and sore throat to total multi-organ failure and even death. 

The measles virus can incubate in the brain for years and later reactivate up to 10 years later causing a progressive brain inflammation in about 1 in 600 infants after they had measles.

Recently, we have heard a lot about the outbreak of measles nationally and in Washington State in particular. 

There had been no reported cases in the United States of this disease known as measles or rubeola in 2000, so this serious disease was considered eliminated. Unfortunately, it has now returned. 

Cases have been reported primarily in travelers getting affected abroad and returning home. By 2019, the case count was the highest recorded in 25 years. 

It is thought that measles outbreaks are on the rise here because of low vaccination rates among some children. In our country some parents had decided not to vaccinate their children because of erroneous claims that the MMR vaccine was connected to autism. 

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump made that claim as well although he has now changed his mind and now declares there is no connection. He is currently recommending that children should get their measles vaccination. 

With our daily news filled with stories about measles and the need for the MMR vaccination, adults including seniors began to wonder about their need to be vaccinated or revaccinated. 

I also wondered if I had had the disease as a child. I assumed I probably had, but I didn’t have my Mom here to tell me. 

The good news is for those of us born before 1957, it is now assumed, hopefully correctly, that we are immune to measles because we had likely been exposed to it in some fashion before there was a measles vaccine.

There have been many vaccines developed in recent years that it is hard to keep track of all of them here. As a physician I am a believer in vaccinations that have been proven effective in preventing so many potentially serious diseases. 

There are some contraindications to getting some vaccines if one is currently ill, has certain chronic illnesses, is pregnant or has some kind of immunodeficiency. These need to be discussed with your personal physician. 

In general here are the most common vaccinations that are recommended for older adults, particularly for seniors.

1. Influenza vaccine annually.

2. Pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine for age 65-plus.

3.Tetanus vaccine every 10 years.

4. Zoster (shingles) vaccine. Since this isn’t 100 percent effective, the newer Shingrix shot is now considered the gold standard.

There is a helpful on-line adult vaccine self-assessment tool from the CDC that I would recommend which tells you what vaccines you need and at what age you should get them and frequency you should consider getting them. 

After using this tool, the next step is to discuss your results and concerns with your own physician.

The self-assessment tool can be found at:

https://www2.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched/.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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