Are you up to date on all of your vaccinations? Chances are that the answer is no.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), “A recent survey shows that while most adults believed they had received all vaccines required for someone their age, less than 10% were actually up to date on their vaccinations.”
You might be surprised to learn that adults need booster doses of certain vaccines, and that other vaccines are recommended specifically for adults, particularly older adults. And, depending on your age, health, medical history, activities and occupation, you may be at higher risk for other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Why is vaccination important?
Vaccines have saved more lives than any other health intervention in the past five decades. Before we had vaccines to prevent polio, measles and other diseases, they sickened and killed millions of people around the world. Vaccines have worked so well that we often forget the devastation these diseases caused in the past. “By keeping up with your recommended vaccinations, you protect not only yourself but everyone around you, says Jodi Marrin, Marketing Manager at Bayshore HealthCare.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines contain a small amount of dead or weakened microbes (bacteria or viruses). When your immune system encounters these microbes, they create antibodies or develop “immune memory” against them. For some diseases, one dose of vaccine will immunize you for life. For others, you need a “booster dose” after a certain period of time in order to maintain immunity.
Vaccines are very safe. They undergo a rigorous testing process to ensure safety, and reactions to vaccines are usually mild. “You are far more likely to suffer from a vaccine-preventable disease than from a reaction to a vaccine,” says the PHAC. “Most reactions, such as a sore arm or mild fever, are usually minor, and last no longer than a day. Serious side effects are very rare, and are carefully monitored by health-care providers. Remember, most vaccine-preventable diseases have no cure, and a minor side effect is nothing compared to the disease.”
What vaccines do adults need?
Below are the vaccines routinely recommended for adults. Many are publicly funded (available at no cost); coverage varies by province or territory. Some vaccines may be covered by work, school or personal health insurance.
Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap): Tetanus (lockjaw), diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) are serious, potentially fatal, diseases. If you haven’t been immunized, or you’re not sure, get the Tdap vaccine. You’ll need a booster dose for tetanus and diphtheria every 10 years. For pertussis, adults should get one booster dose, and women who are pregnant should get a booster dose (one per pregnancy).
Tetanus/diphtheria (Td): If you’ve never been immunized against tetanus and diphtheria, or you’re not sure, get the Td vaccine. You’ll need a booster dose every 10 years. This vaccine is also given to people with serious wounds if they haven’t received a booster within the past five years.
Influenza (flu): The flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Everyone six months or older should get a flu shot every fall, especially those at high risk of complications (people age 65 or older, people with health conditions, people living in long-term care facilities, children under age five, pregnant women or those planning a pregnancy, and Indigenous peoples). Caregivers, family members and others who could infect someone at high risk should also get a flu shot.
Pneumococcal: Pneumococcus bacteria can cause serious, potentially fatal, infections including meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis (blood infections). Health Canada recommends immunization for people over age 65 and those with specific medical conditions. There are two vaccines, pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) and pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV). Talk to your physician about which is right for you.
Herpes zoster (shingles): Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the virus (varicella zoster) that causes chickenpox. Shingles is more common in adults over 50 and people who are immunocompromised. Health Canada recommends the shingles vaccine for people age 60 and older. People aged 50 to 59 and people with medical risks may also receive it. There are two options, Shingrix® and Zostavax® II. Talk to your physician about which is best for you.
Depending on your age, health, medical history, activities, occupation and travel plans, it may be appropriate for you to receive other vaccines. Ask your physician about immunization against:
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Hepatitis A and B
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Measles/mumps/rubella (MMR)
Vaccines for travellers
Certain vaccine-preventable diseases are common in other countries but not Canada. Examples include hepatitis A and B, meningococcal, measles, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. It’s wise to find out what vaccinations are recommended for your destination and how far in advance you should get them. For more information, visit your physician or a travel clinic.