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Gimme a Beer and a Shot of… Tetanus!

Posted May 12 2009 6:14pm

Ask most adults what they think about having a shot and chances are their mind is more likely to conjure up images of Jack Daniels or tequila rather than a syringe filled with vaccine.

Or maybe that just says a lot about the adults I tend to hang out with! Either way, vaccinations are way down the list of things most people out of their childhood think about when you mention shots.

Now, immunizations have had a huge impact on our overall health, particularly that of children, dramatically reducing the number of complications or even deaths from measles and polio to whooping cough and diptheria.

But children are not the only ones who can benefit from vaccinations, adults can too. There are a whole series of shots that adults should make sure they are up to date on.

Why is that? Well, some adults may not have been immunized as a child, some of the newer vaccines may not have been available when they were children, and there’s also the fact that even if you were vaccinated your immunity can weaken over time.

So what shots do you need to think about? Well the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a comprehensive list of what you might need and when. But here’s some ideas to get started with.

  • Tetanus. Most adults need to get a tetanus booster shot every ten years. It can protect you from severe pain or even a pretty nasty death after doing something as simple as standing on a rusty nail.
  • Chickenpox. If you don’t have immunity to the pox, you need to get this shot (two doses of it actually)
  • Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) Anyone born before 1957 is considered immune; anyone born after 1957 should get this. And if you are a woman of child-bearing age and you are not sure if you’ve had this, find out. Measles during pregnancy can be devastating, resulting in miscarriage, still-born, or premature delivery. Considering that around 40% of pregnancies are unplanned this is something women need to be aware of.
  • Shingles. Now I’ve had shingles, it’s not much fun and the older you are when you get it (fortunately I was quite young) the more painful it is. So get this new vaccine and protect yourself against the herpes zoster or shingles virus.
  • Meningococcal. This is mostly for college students who are living in dorms, military recruits, or people traveling to parts of the world where this is common.
  • HPV. This is for women between the ages of 11-26. It protects against the human papillomavirus which can cause genital warts and increase your risk of cervical cancer.
  • Pneumonia. This vaccine is particularly important for those over age 65 as they are most vulnerable to pneumonia.
  • Flu. If you don’t know what the flu vaccine is by now you really haven’t been paying attention to the news have you!
  • Hep A. If you are traveling to some third world countries you might need this.
  • Hep B. This can protect you against a disease that leaves few outward signs as it slowly destroys your liver.

I never really thought much about adult vaccinations until a few years ago.  I was going on a trip to Ethiopia and went in to the travel clinic to make sure I had all the shots I needed. I looked at the list of possible vaccines and it was very long, involving some very large needles. When the doctor came in she asked where I was going. When I said Ethiopia her eyes light up and she said “Oh good, you get the lot”.

And I did. Ouch.

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