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July 21, 2022

While COVID-19 vaccines have been at the forefront of conversations for the better part of the past two years, there are many other important vaccines that are worth staying up to date on as well. Vaccines are commonplace today, but it’s important to understand how vital they have been–and continue to be–in protecting populations against serious illnesses. We’ll go through the common vaccine types, how often you should get them, and what they protect against.

DTaP vaccination/TDaP booster

The DTaP vaccination/TDaP booster stands for Tetanus, Diphtheria, and acellular Pertussis vaccinations.

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is caused by bacteria entering the body through breaks in the skin, like puncture wounds or cuts, caused by contaminated objects. This disease is now uncommon in the United States thanks to the tetanus vaccine, and those who do get tetanus are typically unvaccinated. Symptoms and complications include jaw cramps, muscle stiffness and spasms, difficulty swallowing, fevers, and sometimes death.

Diphtheria used to be the leading cause of childhood deaths around the world. Thanks to the diphtheria vaccine, the infection is now rare in the United States, although outbreaks have recently occurred in other parts of the world. Diphtheria is caused by bacteria that create a toxin in the body, which causes severe sickness, and is typically spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. Symptoms and complications include weakness, sore throat, fever, swollen neck glands, difficulty breathing and swallowing, organ damage, and death. An antitoxin and antibiotics are available to treat diphtheria, but even with treatment about 1 in 10 infected people will die.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is highly a contagious respiratory illness that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. Infected people can get coughing fits so severe that they struggle to draw breath. People of all ages can get pertussis, but it can be particularly serious for children under one year old, even resulting in death. Symptoms include cold-like symptoms for up to two weeks, including runny nose, low fever, mild cough, and a pause in breathing (apnea). After two weeks, pertussis symptoms can evolve into fits of coughing followed by sharp inhales (‘whooping’), passing out from lack of oxygen, vomiting during or after coughing fits, fractured ribs from coughing fits, and exhaustion. These symptoms can last up to 10 weeks and full recovery from pertussis can take several months. While the pertussis vaccine has helped decrease the number of severe pertussis cases, even vaccinated people can still contract pertussis if there’s an active outbreak in their community. However, vaccinated people typically have less severe symptoms than unvaccinated people.

The DTaP vaccine is given to young children under the age of seven, including infants. It is usually given to infants at 6 weeks of age. The first TDaP booster vaccine is a lower dose vaccine and usually administered at 11-12 years old, then every 10 years after. Pregnant people should get a TDaP booster during their third trimester to protect their infant from pertussis. In the United States, these important vaccines have led to a 99% drop in tetanus and diphtheria, and an 80% drop in pertussis.

Flu (influenza) vaccination

The influenza pandemic, also called the Spanish flu, infected the globe in a way that will sound familiar to those of us living through the Covid-19 pandemic. Influenza was caused by an H1V1 virus of avian origin, and from 1918 to 1919 spread worldwide and eventually caused at least 50 million deaths, with 675,000 occurring in the United States. About one third of the world’s population became infected. While the 1918 pandemic remains the most deadly flu outbreak to date, three other flu pandemics have occurred since: the 1957 pandemic caused by the H2N2 virus (1.1 million deaths), the 1968 pandemic caused by the H3N2 virus (1 million deaths), and the 2009 pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus (151,700-575,400 deaths). The flu vaccine did not become available until the 1940s.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness causing fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, and fatigue. It typically becomes most prevalent during the fall and winter, and children are most likely to get sick. People 65 years or older and children under the age of five are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu, including pneumonia. The flu can cause severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Even if you are healthy you can still get the flu, and the best way to protect yourself and others is to get the flu vaccine every year. Infants six months and older can get the vaccine. One flu vaccine is created using chicken eggs, so if you have an egg allergy you may want to talk with your provider about getting one of the two egg-free vaccines.

HPV vaccination

HPV vaccines protect against a group of 200+ human papillomaviruses, some – but not all – of which are spread through sexual contact. Two HPV types cause genital warts, and around a dozen can cause cancer. Since 2016 only one HPV vaccine type, called Gardasil 9, has been used in the United States. Gardasil 9 prevents infection of the following nine HPV types:

-Types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts

-Types 16 and 18, which are high-risk HPVs causing about 70% of cervical cancers and a higher percentage of some of the other HPV-caused cancers

-Types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which are also high-risk HPVs that cause an additional 10-20% of cervical cancers

HPV vaccines have proven to be highly effective when they are given before first exposure to HPV, and trials show that protection lasts around six years with Gardasil 9. Typically, the first dose is given around 11-12 years of age, with a second dose after 6-12 months. If the individual is receiving the first dose after 15 years of age, three doses are given. This vaccine is one of the best ways for women to protect themselves against cervical cancer, along with regular screenings.

Pneumonia vaccination

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes mild to severe illness. While anyone can get pneumonia, people 65 years or older, children 5 years or younger, and people with underlying health conditions are more likely to get it. People can contract viral pneumonia after having the flu, respiratory syncytial virus, or COVID-19. Bacterial pneumonia can occur from infection of Streptococcus bacteria (often resulting in ‘strep throat’, then leading to pneumonia).

The CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination for children younger than two years old, and all adults 65 years or older. There are two types of vaccines: the PCV13 vaccine protects you from 13 of the most severe types of bacteria that cause pneumonia, and the PPSV23 protects against an additional 23 types. You should get both vaccines – first, the PCV13, and then the PPSV23 a year or more later.

Getting both vaccines once should protect you for your entire life. Some people get booster shots, but typically this is not the case.

Shingles vaccination

Shingles is a painful, blistery rash that typically develops on one side of the body and can last up to one month, with long-lasting complications a possibility. Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster virus, and after a person recovers from chickenpox the virus stays dormant in their body. It can reactivate at any time in the body and cause shingles. Having shingles has been described as having an intense burn, and the pain can last for months or years. This long-term pain is called postherpetic neuralgia and is the most common complication of shingles.

The shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, uses two doses and is recommended for people 50 years and older and adults of any age with weakened immune systems. It is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, and immunity lasts for at least seven years. Even if you’ve had shingles or chickenpox in the past, you should still get the shingles vaccine.

Do you need to get up-to-date on any of your vaccines? NEW Health is here to help – give us a call today at 509-935-6004 to schedule an appointment.

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