The Question: What vaccines should I be getting and when?
by Michael Boivin B.Sc.Phm.
No matter your age, vaccines are an essential tool for maintaining good health and a key defence against serious illness.
However, the number of adults who are up to date with their vaccines is low, according to the most recent National Immunization Survey:
- Less than half (40 percent) had a flu shot.
- Only 49 percent are protected against tetanus.
- Uptake for the pneumococcal vaccine is just 20 percent for adults with a medical condition and 33 percent for those 65 years and older.
There’s room for improvement and it’s never too late to get yourself up to date. In fact, vaccines become even more important as we get older because parts of our immune system become weaker, putting us at higher risk for serious complications from common infections.
Take charge of your vaccines to protect your health. Start by talking to your healthcare providers – doctor, public health nurse and pharmacist (most provinces allow pharmacists to administer a wide number of vaccines) – to ensure you’re up to date with the recommended vaccines. These include:
•Influenza (flu): Protects against serious lung infection that commonly causes hospitalization and even death.
•Pneumococcus: Protects against pneumonia and serious infections, such as meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), blood infection or sepsis, all of which can be fatal.
•Shingles (herpes zoster): Protects against the reactivation of the chicken pox virus in your body. Shingles is a very painful rash that can lead to chronic pain. The lifetime risk of herpes zoster is around one in three.
•Tetanus/diphtheria: Protects against two potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases. Tetanus, which is also called lockjaw, is an infection caused by bacteria commonly found in soil, dust and animal feces: The bacteria can enter your body through an open cut. Diphtheria is an infection caused by bacteria that can be transmitted from person to person and usually affects the nose and throat.
•Travel vaccines: Any time you leave Canada, there is a higher risk of common travel diseases that you can get from eating or drinking contaminated food or beverages. Even a simple mosquito bite can increase your risk of infection. Talk to your healthcare providers well in advance of any international trips.
Make it a habit to ask every year if you’re a candidate for any of the key adult vaccines. Tracking varies across the country. In some provinces, information is stored in an electronic database, so all healthcare professionals can see what you’ve received. In other provinces, you are given a card to record your own vaccines.
I recommend the CANImmunize app (canimmunize.ca), which empowers Canadians to keep their own records and even sends a notification to your smartphone when you, or family members, are due a vaccine.
For healthy adults, Canadian vaccine experts recommend:
- Flu: Every year in the fall
- Pneumococcus: One dose only for adults 65 years (or older)
- Shingles: 50 years
- Tetanus/diphtheria: Once every 10 years
Travel: Most people leave it too late. Ideally, at least three to six months before you leave the country
Only 49 percent are protected against tetanus. Are you?
Originally published in Issue 02 of YouAreUNLTD Magazine. PG. 15
Michael Boivin is a clinical pharmacist consultant, continuing education developer and president of CommPharm Consulting Inc.