By Michele Pilon
Chief Executive Officer, Transylvania Regional Hospital
This month I’d like to talk about a topic we mostly associate with infants and children, but that continues to be highly relevant for adults: vaccines. Did you know it’s important to continue being vaccine-aware throughout your life?
Concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccines persist, but in fact they are one of the safest medical precautions you can take to protect you from some serious diseases. In the late eighteenth century, English physician Dr. Edward Jenner performed much vaccine experimentation and eventually developed a vaccine that was successful in preventing smallpox. The concept was fairly simple, if counterintuitive; by introducing a small amount of a bacteria or virus into the system of a patient, it created immunity to future exposures.
That said, no two people are alike, and neither are their immune systems, health histories, or chronic conditions. As we age, our immune systems weaken as well. Even your work and where you travel factor in to how your doctor will advise you regarding immunizations. These are all reasons why it’s critical for adults to discuss vaccines with their primary care physicians.
One thing to go over with your doctor is the need for any boosters for vaccines you received decades ago, in childhood. Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) are commonly needed boosters. Most adults have had chicken pox, whereas children today are receiving a vaccine for this illness. If you have had chicken pox, however, and you’re older than 50, you’re at risk for shingles, an extremely painful and long-lasting condition that can attack anywhere on or in the body. The new two-part Shingrix vaccine is shown to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing shingles. Simply, for each disease you gain immunity from via vaccination, you eliminate your chances of suffering serious complications from contracting it.
Another vaccine every adult 18 and older should receive annually is the flu shot. Influenza killed 675,000 Americans in 1918, and there continues to be thousands of deaths each year that the flu is responsible for – last year it was a sobering 80,000. A myth that persists about the flu shot is that it gives you the flu. This is false, though you can experience mild symptoms due to the virus being introduced into your system. Each year physicians attempt to match the flu vaccine as closely as they can to what they believe the prominent strain will be for the coming flu season. Even if the vaccine isn’t well matched to the flu strain, it’s better to have some protection as opposed to none. Finally, getting a flu shot diminishes your chances of getting the flu, but it’s not a guarantee. If you are immunized and you get the flu, the severity of your symptoms will likely be milder than if you hadn’t been.
One last vaccine to remind adults 65 and older about is the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. This disease can hit older patients hard, and complications from it can be serious.
Tiffany LaFontaine is our Infection Preventionist and notes that October is the month when healthcare workers typically receive their mandatory flu shots. She also frames the topic of vaccines as something that’s not a personal concern alone. “Certainly vaccinations are important in protecting ourselves from infectious diseases, but each person who’s vaccinated means more protection for those who aren’t old enough to receive vaccines, like infants, or those whose immune systems are compromised by illness or age. It’s not just you who benefits from getting your flu shot, it’s for everyone,” she says.
Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital. Her diverse professional experience includes service as a bedside nurse and over a decade as a leader at healthcare institutions in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. Ms. Pilon earned a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Ohio’s University of Akron and a Masters in Health Services Administration from the University of St. Francis in Illinois; she is also a Board-Certified Nursing Executive.