You know the regimen of taking care of yourself: each day you avoid processed foods, eat modestly, enjoying fresh fruits, vegetables and fish or lean meats; you get your body moving at least 30 minutes 5 days a week; you watch your blood pressure and risk of diabetes; you get your mammograms, colonoscopies and Pap smears; you get a good night’s sleep each night and make sure your family does, too. Right. Creating the conditions for your health to thrive is practically a full time job.
What if there was something easy you could do that requires just a few minutes once a year? What if you could lower the chances of debilitating and life-threatening diseases without a second thought? What if insurance would likely foot the bill? As a specialist in preventive medicine and public health, I remind people daily of one of the easiest and most under-appreciated ways to stay healthy as we age: immunization. Below are listed a few vaccines routinely recommended for all adult women (and men) at different points in life. For more details, you can visit www.vaccineinformation.org or www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults
- Every woman, every year: Influenza (flu) vaccine. The only reliable way to cut your chances of catching the flu each season. How well it works depends on the season and on your immune system, but it’s inexpensive and widely available, so why not? It comes as a nasal spray, a short under-the-skin injection or a traditional injection: get whatever is convenient and appropriate for you. You cannot afford to get sick and spend a week in bed, or worse, so make this part of your annual self-care regimen. For efficiency, get any other vaccines you need at the same time.
- Every woman: Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster (“Tdap”). We all need a vaccine against tetanus and diphtheria every 10 years. If you haven’t had a Tdap yet, don’t wait 10 years…go ahead and get it now. It provides added protection against pertussis, or whooping cough, which has been on the rise in recent years because (regrettably) neither vaccine nor illness provides long lasting immunity. It causes a miserable cough illness that lasts weeks in adults and life-threatening illness in newborns.
- Speaking of newborns…All pregnant women should get 2 vaccines during every pregnancy: flu vaccine and Tdap. Influenza during pregnancy can be especially severe, and newborns can catch deadly pertussis from mom or others. By vaccinating during pregnancy, mom’s body shares her protective antibodies with her unborn child, helping protect baby in the earliest weeks of life.
- All women through 26 years: Human Papillomavirus vaccine (HPV). This vaccine prevents infection with strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer and other types of cancers in men and women. It’s routinely given to preteens, but this vaccine is essential cancer prevention for any woman under 27 who hasn’t had it yet.
- All women 60 and up: Shingles (zoster) vaccine. Anyone who has had chickenpox can come down with shingles, a painful rash that develops from reactivation of the chickenpox virus inside a nerve. If you are 60 or older, your chances of coming down with it are 1 in 3. The shingles vaccine, given just once to everyone over 60, can cut that to 1 in 6. If you do get shingles anyway, you’ll be much less likely to experience the debilitating pain some sufferers endure for months.
- All women 65 and up (and some earlier): pneumococcal vaccine. The “pneumonia shot” is recommended once after turning 65, but watch this space! New recommendations for additional protection may be coming very soon.
This list just hits the highlights of routine vaccines. You may need others because of your health. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires your insurance plan to charge no deductible or co-pay if you receive them from an in-network provider. Coverage is a bit more complicated under Medicare, TennCare and “grandfathered” plans not yet subject to ACA. Ask your healthcare provider, insurance plan or pharmacist to see what your benefits are. The savvy woman doesn’t pass up the chance to optimize her health.
About Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH
Dr. Moore is a public health physician, with a specialty in preventive medicine, who works to minimize the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases.