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3 vaccines you may need now

Getting the right vaccine at the right time could make all the difference

Published: August 27, 2015 06:00 AM

Flu: You can fend it off (really!)

Though last year’s flu vaccine was the least effective it has been in the last eight years—reducing risk of illness by only about 23 percent—experts say that even a not-so-good flu shot is far better than none. If you do get sick in spite of getting the vaccine, symptoms are often milder. “The vaccine may prevent you from having to go to the emergency room or intensive care unit, and protect you from dying,” says Vanderbilt University Medical Center infectious disease specialist William Schaffner, M.D. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that just about everyone age 6 months and older get an annual flu shot—ideally by October, before peak flu season. Schaffner anticipates that this year’s vaccine will be about 65 percent effective for most people.

Measles: The comeback is a big deal

This past spring, a Washington State woman became the first person in the U.S. in 12 years to die from measles, a highly contagious disease marked by rash, fever, eye infections, and a long-lasting, hacking cough. And according to the CDC, there were 667 measles cases in the U.S. in 2014, a more than 300 percent jump from the previous year. Though we may see fewer total cases in 2015 (as of the end of July, 181 people in the U.S. had come down with measles), outbreaks at just two Disney theme parks, accounting for 125 illnesses, are proof of how easily the disease can spread.

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Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser, Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., says, “This is worrying news about a disease that officials declared eradicated in 2000, and one that is almost entirely vaccine-preventable.”

It doesn’t take much to protect yourself for life. “Virtually the only people who get measles in the U.S. today are not immunized,” Schaffner says. The CDC’s recommendations—two doses separated by at least 28 days—are about 97 percent effective, making the measles shot one of the most reliable. Most people in the U.S. get measles protection from the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) shot in childhood, but around 5 percent of kindergartners were unvaccinated against measles during the 2013 to 2014 school year. Not sure whether you were ever vaccinated? “Go get a dose,” Schaffner says. “In 10 days to two weeks, you’ll have immunity.”

Learn whether you should get vaccinated at a pharmacy.

Shingles: If you’re 60-plus, you need the shot

If you’ve had the chickenpox at any point, you’re at risk for shingles, which often causes an extremely painful blistering rash and nerve pain (called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN) that can linger long after the rash disappears. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in his or her lifetime, when the long-dormant chickenpox virus in the body reactivates.

To cut your chance of shingles by about 64 percent and the likelihood of persistent nerve pain by 67 percent, simply get the herpes zoster vaccine at age 60. “That’s when we’re most susceptible to the disease,” Lipman says. Yet in 2013, only 24 percent of adults age 60 and older did so, in part because of the misconception that once you’ve had shingles, you can’t get it again. So unless you have a medical reason to skip the shingles shot (if you’re taking medication that weakens immunity, or if you have a disease or an allergy to vaccines), do it! You’ll avoid symptoms “so severe that many people can’t sleep and often miss work,” Lipman says.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the October 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

 



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