The peak of the winter season is a good time to remind you about the most important vaccines for all adults. They protect you against nasty diseases the severity of which too many non-medical people seriously underestimate.

Influenza vaccine

The season is late, the flu this year is severe, and too many of you, my patients, did not appear to get your flu shot last fall. I have had one patient hospitalized so far and another lose about 10 days of work from severe influenza. Influenza A is not a bad cold. It is high fever (101-103F), chills, severe aches, terrible cough, and often supervening bacterial pneumonia.

A flu shot is highly protective (though not foolproof). Annual shots provide better protection than occasional ones. The vaccine is made from virus particles. You cannot get influenza from it. Side effects are modest, affect perhaps one person in twenty, and mostly are sore arm or feeling achey for a day.

It is late but not too late to get your immunization for this year’s flu season. Kindly call ahead but we will accommodate you for a flu shot most anytime this coming week (January 14+, or even after) if you avoided us or forgot so far. The flu shot is important!

TdaP (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis)

About six years ago whooping cough (pertussis) protection was added to the traditional tetanus-diphtheria (Td) immunization that I give you every 10 years. Tetanus and diphtheria are severe and frequently fatal bacterial diseases fortunately rendered rare by the Td booster.

Whooping cough is a severe, persistent respiratory infection that keeps you coughing for many weeks. It is particularly devastating in infants, which is why pediatricians are recently insisting that any adult who goes near an infant must have had a TdaP immunization at least two weeks earlier (to be sure it is effective). Pay attention, prospective parents and grandparents.

I have already given most of you the TdaP vaccine over recent years. If you are one who slipped through our net so far, be prepared for that shot when I next see you. Minimal side effects except mildly sore arm for a day or two.

Shingles vaccine (Zostavax)

We have been giving the shingles vaccine (named Zostavax) for at least seven years now to everyone over 60. Recently the FDA changed the approval to everyone over 50 (although not every insurer is yet paying for the 50-59 age group).

Shingles, officially herpes zoster, is chicken pox revisited. It is a miserable, painful blistery rash that does not always completely resolve and sometime produces chronic pain of the affected nerves. The cause is residual chicken pox (varicella) virus that we never cleared during our initial infection with varicella.

We have been and will continue to offer Zostavax to everyone over 50 if you have not yet received it. At your next visit, please ask about it if we don’t remind you. Side effects have been almost nil. It is a live but weakened virus vaccine that is highly effective. It is not yet clear whether any booster will be required down the road.

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