Keeping up with immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Senior woman receiving vaccination

Most people receive immunizations as a child and adolescent, forgetting about their shots once into adulthood. But what boosters do adults need to stay healthy? Should they keep up with vaccines in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

It is incredibly important -- now more than ever as we combat a global pandemic -- to protect yourself and those around you from potentially life-threatening illnesses through vaccines.

It’s part of my role as a primary care physician to make sure there are no gaps in patient care. I believe in the power of preventive medicine and that it’s important to take advantage of the tools we have available to maintain good health. Vaccines are great for this.

Physicians and their patients should work together to protect people from contracting illnesses, especially those we can prevent. I recommend you speak to your primary care physician about your vaccine schedule to ensure you are up-to-date for this upcoming flu season.

Vaccines and COVID-19

While scientists work to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, you can get immunizations for other illnesses that will decrease your chances of getting sick and needing hospitalization.

For example, the flu vaccine can reduce your chance of getting influenza, reduce its severity and duration, and help avoid potentially life-threatening complications.

Vulnerable populations, like the elderly or people with underlying or chronic conditions, experience severe complications from preventable illnesses like flu and pneumonia at a higher rate than the general population. We are also seeing this trend with COVID-19.

Vaccines are highly recommended to help protect against complications or death for this vulnerable group. If you are not part of this population but a family member or loved one is, it is equally important for you to get vaccinated to help protect them.

Here is a list of boosters and vaccines to receive as an adult. All routine vaccinations should be given despite the COVID-19 pandemic:

Flu (Influenza)

Children can receive their first flu vaccine as young as 6 months old, and according to the CDC, can continue to receive one annually throughout life. You are encouraged to get a flu shot every year, typically in the fall or winter. Since the flu virus changes each year, annual vaccinations are needed.

The flu can be very serious in patients who have poor immune systems, or patients who are very young or old. However influenza sometimes can be serious for healthy adults, too.

Health systems expect a rise in hospitalizations during the flu season each year. I highly recommend you consider getting your flu vaccine early in the 2020 season.

Most physician offices and clinics should have vaccines available in early September. The earlier you protect the yourself through vaccination, the less chance you have of contracting the flu virus.

Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis

People generally get their first tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (TDap) vaccine at around 11 years old. Adults should receive a TDap booster once every 10 years, especially those who may be at risk of puncture wounds, such as those that occur if you step on a nail.

Pregnant patients should get a TDap booster in their third trimester of every pregnancy, preferably in gestational weeks 27–36. That’s because antibodies from the vaccine are passed on to protect the developing baby from whooping cough.

Zoster (Shingles)

The CDC recommends adults age 50 and older receive the Zoster vaccine to prevent shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. While those who’ve had chickenpox can still develop shingles, adults over age 60 are at the highest risk.

Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)

Children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine once at 12-15 months and again between 4 and 6 years. Some children may get a similar vaccine (MMRV) that also prevents varicella (chickenpox). Adults can receive the MMR or MMRV vaccine if they did not get it as a child.

HPV

The CDC recommends receiving a series of vaccines to prevent human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. Both men and women can get this immunization between ages 11-12 and 26, but it can be given as early as age 9. It can also be administered after age 26 until 45 in special cases, such as an incomplete vaccination history.

Pneumonia

“At risk” adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should receive an immunization for pneumonia. Patients may be more susceptible to pneumonia if they smoke, have respiratory diseases such as COPD or asthma, suffer from renal failure, have immune suppression disorders, alcoholism or HIV. Primary care physicians recommend all patients older than 65 receive two pneumonia boosters.

International Travel Vaccines

Other adults with risk factors including certain medical conditions or lifestyles should also consult their doctors about receiving vaccinations to prevent several types of meningococcal meningitis and Hepatitis A.

For each immunization, there are special cases in which people with certain conditions should or should not receive it. For information on each immunization and when to be vaccinated, consult CDC’s website.

If you switch health care providers, make sure your immunization records are transferred. A vaccine card also could be helpful to track what shots you’ve already received and what is due next.

Anything we can do to prevent disease or complications that can be life-changing or fatal is worth doing. It’s important to ask your primary care physician whatever questions you have about a vaccine to understand what the benefits are to prevent serious illness.

To request an in-person or virtual appointment now with a primary care physician at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial, click here or call 855-826-3878.

Gloria Okereke

Gloria Okereke, DO

Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, Dr. Okereke, has the knowledge and skill set to meet the diverse needs of your entire family. From newborns to seniors, she is committed to providing comprehensive medical care that is tailored to meet each patient’s specific needs.

Learn more about Dr. Okereke