Autumn is a Good Time to Review and Update Your Vaccines

Fall has arrived — along with school, colds, coughs, and infections. Take the smart steps now to keep yourself healthy and thriving! 

We all love fall, with the return of routine, cozy seasonal meals and pumpkin spice everything! But along with the fun parts of the change in seasons, the return of fall also beckons the inevitable return of colds, coughs, and other upper respiratory infections. This month, we thought it would be timely to review the current guidelines for adult vaccination for the purpose of protecting vulnerable populations, protecting oneself against disease and from the cardiovascular and neurologic consequences of contracting common vaccine preventable illnesses.

The new kid on the block this year is the RSV vaccine. Unlike the vaccines we all have on our yearly “to-do list,” like the flu shot and more recently, COVID, the RSV vaccine is recommended only for a select portion of the adult population. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is well known for its dangerous effects on the respiratory system of young children. However, the risk to a vulnerable adult population is lesser known. Adults over the age of 65 are at increased risk for dangerous complications after contracting RSV, including an exacerbation of underlying pathologies such as cardiovascular disease. At this time, there is no specific cure for RSV, and treatment is supportive in nature, which unfortunately results in thousands of deaths in older adults each year. 

Thankfully, a single dose vaccine is now available that offers greater than 80% protection from the complications associated with RSV. The vaccine is not indicated for everyone — so who should be lining up to roll up their sleeves? The vaccine is available to all adults over the age of 65 but should be most highly considered by those with chronic conditions affecting the immune system such as diabetes, COPD or significant cardiovascular disease.

As always, we highly recommend the annual Influenza (Flu) vaccine both for protection from the respiratory effects of the influenza virus, as well as the prevention of the inflammatory milieu associated with severe infection. Beyond protecting against seasonal influenza, a recent study published in Neurology found that regular influenza vaccination was associated with a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. While the mechanism of this association remains unclear, the finding illuminates the importance of flu vaccination for both respiratory and cognitive health. As a reminder, routine annual flu vaccination is recommended for all patients 6 months of age and older if no contraindication exists.

The Shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine is another relative newcomer on the vaccine scene. While the influenza vaccine has been found to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, an active shingles infection has been linked to an elevated risk for stroke. A Harvard study published in 2022 by the Journal of the American Heart Association followed more than 200,000 adults without prior cardiovascular disease. The study found that those participants who endured a shingles infection during the study had a higher risk for stroke compared to those who had not had shingles. The shingles vaccine is currently recommended for individuals aged 50 years and older; due to the risk of stroke, we do highly recommend this vaccine for any eligible person.

The Pneumonia vaccine is another guideline-based vaccine we often get questions about. Currently, there are two types of pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccines, the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccines (PCV13, PCV15 and PCV20), and the Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23/Pneumovax23). The Prevnar 13 or 15 vaccine is recommended for all children younger than 5 years old (given as part of a series) and for children 5-18 with medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease. The Prevnar 20 vaccine is recommended for adults aged 65 and older and adults younger than 65 living with conditions that predispose them to more severe disease. Pneumovax23 is given to children aged 2-18 who need it based on their risk profile, and to adults who have received Prevnar 13 or 15 in the past. 

While the COVID-19 vaccine recommendations have been highly dynamic over the past few years, many specialists believe we will likely start to experience COVID much like other seasonal illnesses. Currently, the CDC continues to strongly encourage eligible individuals to receive vaccinations and boosters in accordance with the most current guidelines. The most updated version of the COVID vaccine should be available later this month, adding additional protection against the most current COVID variants.

This fall as you prepare to settle in for a cozier season, it is well worth your time to have a conversation with your healthcare provider about the best ways to protect yourself against the most common seasonal maladies. Vaccines serve as critical tools, along with diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction, to preserve health both by preventing disease and the inflammatory cascade that can be associated with severe illness.

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