Are you up to date on your vaccines?
We’re not talking about the ones for your children. Moms tend to be really conscientious about vaccine schedules for their kids. But did you know that many women are missing out on important vaccines that could protect their health in adulthood?
The flu vaccine is probably the first one that comes to mind. But there are others that women are not getting—important vaccines needed because of health issues that come with age, living area, occupation, and more
Many adult women see only a gynecologist for their yearly check-up. Since a gynecologist is likely to be focused on your reproductive health, and may not think to check up on your vaccinations, this may mean that many women are lacking important vaccines and are not even aware of it.
According to Beverly Lawler, a public health nurse and the Immunization Program IAP coordinator, “Every year, thousands of adults in the U.S. needlessly suffer, are hospitalized, and even die from disease that could be prevented by vaccines.”
Your health is your most precious gift in life. To protect it as best you can, review the following list for vaccinations you may need at various stages of your life.
Young Women 19 – 24 Years of Age
At this age, whether women are going to college or out into the workforce, the following vaccines are recommended:
This vaccine is required at certain colleges to protect against bacterial meningitis. Even women who received the vaccine before they turned 16 should get a booster before heading off to campus.
- MenACWY (meningococcal conjugate vaccine): This vaccine is required at certain colleges to protect against bacterial meningitis. Even women who received the vaccine before they turned 16 should get a booster before heading off to campus.
- Chickenpox (varicella): According to the CDC, the vaccine protecting against chickenpox has been available since 1995. Since then, the number of people having to go through this disease has gone down dramatically. Those who never got the vaccine as children should get two doses, at least 28 days apart.
- Tdap: This one protects you against three diseases: 1) tetanus, 2) diphtheria, and 3) pertussis (whooping cough). You need this one only if you didn’t get it in your pre-teen (11–12) years or if you’re pregnant (see below).
- Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR): As long as you got this as a child you’re fine, but if you didn’t, you can get it now. This is especially important for women working in health care facilities, who plan to travel internationally, or who are going to college.
- HPV: This protects against the HPV virus, which can cause cervical cancer. You need this one only if you didn’t get it in your pre-teen years, or if you didn’t finish the complete series.
- Flu: You may think you’re strong enough to go without this one, but remember that if you’re around young children or the elderly, you could pass the virus on to more vulnerable populations.
- Pneumonia (pneumococcal): This is needed only if you have other health conditions that put you at risk for pneumonia (such as immunosuppressive diseases, chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, etc.) or if you are in a healthcare setting that puts you at risk or in which you could put others at risk (such as a hospital, nursing home, or long-term care facility).
- Hepatitis A: You need this vaccination only if you use illegal drugs, you have chronic liver disease, have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia, or you work with the virus (HAV) in a research setting.
- Hepatitis B: The same as for hepatitis A, except that women who are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship should also get this vaccine to be protected. The virus is transmitted through blood, semen, and other body fluids. If you work at a job that potentially exposes you to blood or body fluids you may also need vaccination.
Adult Women Up to 64 Years of Age
Recommendations here are very similar to those above, with some additions.
- MenACWY (which protects against four types of meningitis) If you got vaccinated as a young woman, you are all set. If you didn’t get it then, get it now.
- Chickenpox (varicella): As long as you got this as a young adult, you’re fine. Otherwise, get two doses at least a month apart.
- Tdap: Once you get this one, you need a booster of the Td portion every 10 years.
- MMR: If you didn’t get this one before, you can still get it up to the age of 59.
- HPV: If you didn’t get this earlier, you can still get the series of vaccinations up to the age of 26.
- Flu: Same recommendations as above.
- Pneumonia (pneumococcal): Same as above.
- Hepatitis A: Same as above.
- Hepatitis B: Same as above.
Vaccinations can be especially confusing during pregnancy. The most important thing to keep in mind is to try to be sure you’re up on your vaccinations before becoming pregnant. (You can follow the recommendations above.) Rubella, for example, can cause devastating birth defects if you should come down with it while pregnant.
Once you are pregnant, some vaccines become even more important, and some you can’t safely take until after delivery. Those recommended after delivery are safe even if you’re breastfeeding.
- Tdap: Health experts recommend women take this vaccine during each pregnancy between 27 and 36 weeks to protect the child from these diseases, particularly whooping cough.
- Flu: If you get the flu while you’re pregnant, you could suffer from serious complications. It can also increase your risk of premature labor and delivery. If you are pregnant during the flu season, ask for the “inactivated” flu vaccine.
- Chickenpox (varicella): Pregnant women should not get this vaccine until after they have given birth, and should avoid getting pregnant for one month after receiving the vaccine.
- MMR: It’s best to get this shot before planning a family. If not, do not get it while you’re pregnant, but after you’ve given birth.
Older Women 65 Years of Age and Up
Seniors, on the whole, are more vulnerable to disease than other age groups. Their immune systems may not be as robust as they were before, which allows a number of viruses to take hold, particularly the Herpes Zoster virus that causes shingles.
Recommendations remain the same as the adult recommendations for Tdap, chickenpox (varicella), hepatitis A and B, and meningococcal. This age group doesn’t need the HPV and MMR vaccines.
- Flu: A yearly flu vaccine is even more important for seniors, as getting the flu when you’re 65 or older can create a lot more serious complications than it does for younger people. Don’t miss your flu vaccine.
- Shingles (herpes zoster): Every year, about a million Americans develop a case of shingles, a painful skin rash caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella). The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that everyone get this vaccination beginning at age 60, even if you don’t remember ever having chickenpox, and even if you had the chickenpox vaccination (the shingles one is slightly stronger). Talk with your doctor, though. The vaccine is reported to remain most effective for only about five years, and it’s not clear if a booster helps after that, so if you’re in good health, you may want to wait a few years before getting this one.
- Pneumonia (pneumococcal): This vaccine helps protect against pneumonia, which is a serious health risk in seniors. If you haven’t gotten a pneumonia shot up until now, get it once you turn 65.
Women with Certain Medical Conditions
If you have an immuno-compromising condition, HIV, kidney failure, heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, chronic liver disease, or other similar health conditions, check with your regular family doctor for recommendations.
The schedule remains mostly the same as those listed above, with the exception of the chickenpox, MMR, and shingles vaccines, which aren’t recommended for those with conditions that depress the immune system. Those with other health conditions may require more frequent vaccinations in certain instances.
“Recognizing National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM),” CDC, June 22, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam.html.
Beverly Lawler, “August is National Immunization Awareness Month,” Niagara Gazette, August 10, 2015, http://www.niagara-gazette.com/opinion/guest-view-august-is-national-immunization-awareness-month/article_f65532f9-5ec3-579e-9354-57353222e28c.html.
“Promote the importance of immunizations with this communications toolkit,” NIAM, August 2015, https://www.nphic.org/niam.
“Screening Tests and Vaccines,” Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 2011, http://womenshealth.gov/screening-tests-and-vaccines/vaccines/.