These Are 4 Vaccines You Need Now
Along with the flu and shingles shots, these jabs are important to keep you healthy.
When you were a kid, you got your vaccines because your parents, pediatrician, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said so. The shots were many, all created to prep your immune system to do battle with infectious diseases lurking in your world. (And odds are, thanks to those skin pricks, you never experienced smallpox, measles, polio, and many other crippling illnesses.) As an adult though, your vaccine schedule is neither as strict nor as varied. And many adults are less clear about what they need, why they need it, and when they should get it. Even yearly flu shot gets the short shrift, with only 48.4% of adult Americans getting one during the 2019-2020 flu season.
If you’re confused about what you need—and why you need it—check out this list of must-have vaccines for grownups. The following four vaccines are especially important for anyone who is living with a chronic condition. Without a vaccine, you are vulnerable to developing an illness that could create serious health complications on top of the condition you’re already dealing with. There are a lot of this you can’t control with a chronic condition. Getting vaccinated is not one of them. Talk with your doctor about these options.
The Shot: Covid-19 Vaccine
How often: Currently just once…but possibly in two doses. Need for booster shots is still unknown.
What to expect: Depending on the type of vaccination and the maker, you will get either one shot (Johnson & Johnson) or two (Moderna and Pfizer).
We are living through a pandemic, folks. If you haven’t received your jab, what are you waiting for? The efficiency of the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. starts in the 72% range and have been shown to be effective at providing protection against the variants that are currently circulating. Once you are vaccinated, there seems to be immunity for at least six months—and possibly a couple of years. “There may be evolving boosters for COVID vaccines by the time we get around to the winter, although I expect that'll be a bit later into 2022,” says Cameron Wolfe, M.B.B.S., associate professor of medicine at Duke University in Durham, NC.
The Shot: Seasonal Flu or Influenza Vaccine
How often: Yearly, usually in the fall.
What to expect: It is straightforward—just a jab in the shoulder.
After hearing about the efficiency rates of the Covid-19 vaccines and their ability to stop variants, you might think that the flu vaccine has some catching up to do. “The flu vaccine is maybe 50%, 60%, 70% at best,” says Peter Katona, M.D., UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of epidemiology and of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
This flu virus is a sneaky bugger that mutates with fervor. Each year, the new flu vaccine is created to protect against a strain of the flu virus that scientists believe will emerge. Some years, they guess right; other years, not so much. Either way, any vaccine is better than none, priming your immune system for what might be ahead.
“Generally speaking, there are almost no reasons why people shouldn't be getting a COVID and a flu shot,” Dr. Wolfe says. “We know they are effective. We know that they’re safe. So, the mere fact that we can't quite predict how busy the flu season should be, shouldn't be a reason for folks to put their head in the sand, and think that they shouldn’t do it.”
The Shot: Pneumonia Vaccine
How often: Depends on your health status.
What to expect: There are two versions of the vaccine PPSV23 and PCV13. Your health status and any underlying conditions determine which version(s) you need, the number of doses, and the timeline that you should receive those doses.
The pneumonia vaccines, PCV13 and PPSV23, prevent infections that can occur from 13 to 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria respectively; the efficiency of these vaccines range from 45% to 75%. “The pneumonia vaccines are really most relevant for folks who are either older adults—we typically think people more than the age of 50 to 65, or those who are immunosuppressed,” Dr. Wolfe says.
Most likely, you will only get the pneumonia shot once in your adulthood or, depending on your longevity, once every five years. “They're obviously less frequent. It's a good conversation I think people should have with their physician as it comes into September or October and things are starting to cool down,” Dr. Wolfe says.
The Shot: Shingles Vaccine
How often: Two shots separated by two to six months.
What to expect: Your average vaccination soreness, nothing major.
After you turn 50, getting vaccinated for shingles should be on your radar. The shingles vaccine a.k.a. Shingrix is more than 90% effective at protecting against shingles and its complications, and 85% effective for the four years after you get vaccinated. “Shingles is a two-vaccine course,” Dr. Wolfe says. “I've often given shingles dose one with the flu shot and shingles dose two with a pneumonia shot, and that saves patients visits. It's quite safe to be combined.”
How Should I Approach Getting Vaccinated?
Prioritizing is the name of the game plan during 2021 and 2022. “Everyone really should've had the COVID vaccine by now—if they haven't or they're still sort of sitting on the fence, then preferably, the sooner the better,” Dr. Wolfe says. “Then, flu and/or pneumonia as you come into the winter." Shingles is not seasonally dependent, "but people should talk to their doctor about it.”
Ideally, you can piggybank some of these vaccines together. For instance, COVID with flu, or flu with pneumonia, or shingles with flu. “For many years, we've done flu and pneumonia together,” Dr. Wolfe says. “I think trying to give people three vaccines at once is probably asking for a bit much, but certainly two at once can be done with no concerns.”
Percentage of People Getting the Flu Vaccine: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) “Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States 2019-2020 Influenza Season.” https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1920estimates.htm
Efficiency of COVID-19 Vaccines: University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (2021.) “COVID-19 Vaccine Efficiency Summary.” https://www.healthdata.org/covid/covid-19-vaccine-efficacy-summary
What to Expect with the Pneumonia Vaccine: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) “Pneumococcal Vaccination: Summary of Who and When to Vaccinate.” https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/hcp/who-when-to-vaccinate.html
Efficiency of Pneumonia Vaccine: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) “Pneumococcal Vaccination: What You Should Know.” https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html
Shingles Vaccine: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. (2018.) “Shingles Vaccination.” https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html