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Why do you need multiple vaccinations?

Q:  The other day when I was picking up a prescription the pharmacist asked if I was interested in getting the new Shingles vaccine. He even volunteered to call my physician if I agreed. I had a vaccination for Shingles several years ago after suffering through the rash and I never wanted to have a second outbreak. I’ve had the same experience regarding the pneumonia vaccine and of course every year my doctor tells me I should get the flu shot. Why would I need to get multiple vaccinations?

A:   A microbiologist could provide an in-depth scientific explanation to your question. This is a more simplistic answer and will hopefully give you a better understanding of why one single vaccine does not always provide a person with the protection they might need in the future. In regards to the flu, small genetic changes typically occur every season. The viruses may be close in nature and a healthy person could possibly escape getting ill. The genetic changes can accumulate over a period of time and the body’s immune system no longer has the ability to fight off the virus if exposed.

The flu vaccine composition needs to be evaluated every year to determine potential effectiveness. Due to the genetic makeup of the virus it is impossible at this time to create a single vaccine for prevention of the flu. Microbiologists and other public health experts are working to develop a universal flu vaccine that will provide lifelong protection. Only the future will tell if this becomes a reality.

The pneumonia and shingles vaccines are examples of continuous improvements in the chemical makeup of the vaccination. In the past decade Zostavax was the vaccine available to provide a level of protection against an outbreak of shingles. It is still available in addition to the new Shingrix vaccine which is believed to provide additional protection. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended with 2-6 months in between each inoculation.

Individuals should always consult their primary physician to determine if additional vaccinations are appropriate. Their physician will review current health conditions and medical history in making a final decision.

 

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Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to ageinfo@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.