Don’t Throw Away Your Shot. Get Vaccinated!

By Amber McCracken, GHI Blog Contributor

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Not Throwing Away My Shot!

If you’ve ever seen the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton (and even if you haven’t), you might be familiar with the song “My Shot.” In it, Alexander Hamilton–yes, that Alexander Hamilton–sings about wanting to be part of something great, about not missing his chance making a difference. Well, what applies to American history and pop culture can also be applied to vaccinations.

You might think I’m stretching things a bit, but without important vaccinations, you could be missing out on a lot! As parents, we struggle as we witness the multiple, painful vaccine shots given to your tiny baby on those first few trips to the pediatrician. But as a parent, you know you are doing the best thing for your baby to keep him/her healthy and protected against the most threatening viruses.

As we age, vaccines continue to be a part of a responsible healthcare regimen. If you see your primary care provider regularly, you are most likely up-to-date on your immunizations. But with the holidays, old man winter and flu season right around the corner, it’s a great time to regroup and make sure you are fully protected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these four vaccines for people aged 65 and older.

Influenza Vaccine

The dreaded flu. According to the CDC, between 5% and 20% of the U.S. population comes down with the flu each year. For those of us who have fallen into that category, I think we can agree that it’s a pretty miserable experience. But as we get older, catching the flu can lead to more than just the typical aches, pains and chills; it can be very serious or even deadly. The CDC reports that as many as 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. WebMD emphasizes the importance of getting your flu shot if you have a health condition such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system.

There are actually a number of different types of influenza vaccines, including the “regular” flu shot, nasal spray and egg-free vaccines for people who have severe egg allergies. But for people over the age of 65, many doctors and pharmacists recommend Fluzone, which contains a higher does than the regular flu shot. A 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that older adults who had this shot were 24% less likely to catch the flu than those who received a standard shot.

Even if you received the influenza vaccine, you can still get the flu, but it should not be as severe. Therefore, if you are around someone with the flu, take precaution. As an airborne virus, meaning you can get it from a person sneezing or coughing around you, it is very contagious. Flu germs can linger on places like tables, counters, desks, doorknobs and faucets for up to eight hours. Wash your hands frequently, grab the sanitizing wipes provided at your local grocery store to wipe down your cart, and carry hand sanitizer to use after a night of shaking hands at an event.

Early fall is the best time to be vaccinated because flu season usually starts in late October. “It takes about two weeks to fully build up immunity. But it’s never too late. The flu usually peaks in February and then can circulate until April,” said William Schaffner, MD, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

Pneumococcal disease, which is any type of infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, kills about 18,000 adults 65 and older each year. This is because older adults are more likely to develop complications from the bacteria such as pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against pneumococcal disease. Currently, there are two vaccines, PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23­ (Pneumovax 23). The CDC recommends that all adults 65 and older have both shots, a year apart, with the PCV13 first. It protects about 75% of older adults, and PPSV23 shields up to 85% of healthy adults from invasive pneumococcal disease.

Zoster Vaccine

photo of a shingles vaccination vial

iStock photo by CatLane

While the name of the vaccine might not sound familiar, the condition it protects you from certainly does: Shingles. CDC reports that approximately 1 in 3 people in the United States will have shingles at some point in their life. The infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox in your lifetime, the shingles virus is still in your body lying dormant. When your immune system becomes compromised, the virus effectively wakes up and causes a painful red rash typically along the side of the torso.

Because our immune system weakens naturally as we age, people 60 or older represent half of those experiencing shingles. That’s why the CDC recommends that adults 50 and older receive the vaccine, regardless of whether you’ve had chickenpox in your lifetime. Specifically, CDC recommends getting the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, even if you’ve had the earlier recommended vaccine, Zostavax — which was much less effective — and even if you’ve already had shingles. 

Tdap Vaccine

The Tdap vaccine is the booster for the childhood DTaP vaccine, which protects again tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. The Tdap booster vaccine is nearly 100% effective in protecting you against tetanus and diphtheria. However, it appears to be only 80% effective in blocking pertussis, or whooping cough. Moreover, a 2016 Canadian study found that the effectiveness dropped to only 41% after eight years of receiving the vaccine.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. While deaths are rare, they are most common in infants or children too young to have completed their full course of vaccinations. Therefore, this is especially important for people who spend time around infants to be vaccinated or avoid being around young children if you are feeling any symptoms.

According to WebMD, symptoms of whooping cough may start out just like a cold with mild coughing, runny nose and low fever. But soon after, persistent dry coughing spells occur that that “whooping” sound. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, speak to you doctor.

The CDC recommends the Tdap booster vaccine only once, followed by a Td booster against tetanus and diphtheria every 10 years.

Talk to Your Doctor

Most vaccines are covered by Medicare. At your next medical visit, talk with your doctor or other healthcare professional to find out which vaccines are recommended for you based upon your own personal health conditions.

As the CDC reminds you, don’t wait. Vaccinate! And as I’d like to remind you–Don’t throw away your shot!


Amber McCracken is the executive director of Current Communications, a boutique consultancy that helps organizations with their marketing and public relations activities. Amber has worked with GHI since 2014, providing her expert advice to support Goodwin House at Home. She contributes regularly to The Good Life, both as a writer and editor. Amber lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.