Immunizations – Important Health Protection

Immunizations are not just for kids: they offer critical protection against disease for everyone, no matter their age. Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month, your Capital Women’s Care team wants to share vital information about immunizations and vaccines required specifically for women throughout all stages of their lives, from birth and pre-adolescence through pregnancy and post-menopausal years and beyond to afford you the best health protection and quality of life.   

Immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases is an essential component of women’s health care. Maintaining appropriate vaccines and immunizations protects not only you, but also your family members, your friends and neighbors, plus those within your community.  In addition to disease protection, vaccines help your body’s immune system do its job better and faster.

Here are some important tips to ensure you stay up to date on your immunizations and vaccines: 

  • Know your immunization history – get immunization records from your parents or previous physician practices. Some immunizations’ protection can diminish over time. Having your immunization records helps your current practitioner monitor your health and track immunizations that may need to be prescribed and/or updated. 

Women planning pregnancy should review their current immunization records with their OB/GYN prior to becoming pregnant. 

  • Discuss immunizations during yearly physicals -- talk with your doctor at your yearly well check up about immunization updates as well as schedule additional ones if advised.  Doing so avoids vaccine-preventable disease due to age; job, lifestyle, or travel situations; or recent health condition diagnoses. 
  • Have direct access to your immunizations – Many healthcare practices have computer-based apps patients may use to access their personal health information, including immunization and vaccine records. This is an effective tool to help you monitor and schedule necessary vaccines to keep your health on track, know if you need to discuss an immunization update or schedule additional required immunizations with your doctor. 

Types of Vaccines

Vaccines are designed to teach our immune system how to fight off certain germs and the serious diseases they cause.

Scientists take the following into consideration when creating vaccines:

  • how your immune system responds to the germ
  • the intended recipient population of the vaccine
  • and the best technology or approach to create vaccine. 

There are 4 major types of vaccines:

  • Live-attenuated vaccines use a weakened (or attenuated) form of the germ that causes a disease. Because these vaccines are like the natural infection that they help prevent, they create a strong, long-lasting immune response. Just 1 or 2 doses of most live vaccines can provide a lifetime of protection against a germ and the disease it causes. 

Some populations, particularly those with weakened immune systems, long-term health problems or those receiving organ transplants should discuss these vaccines with their health care provider prior to receiving them. 

Live virus vaccines, such as the MMR and chickenpox shots, should not be given to pregnant women, but should be given to women before or after pregnancy, if indicated. Live vaccines are generally not recommended during pregnancy. 

Live vaccines are used to protect against: measles, mumps and rubella (MMR combined vaccine), rotavirus, smallpox, chickenpox and yellow fever. 

  • Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of the germ that causes a disease. Inactivated vaccines usually don’t provide immunity or protection that is as strong as live vaccines, which may result in needing several doses over time via booster shots to get ongoing immunity against diseases.

Inactivated vaccines are used to protect against: hepatitis A, flu (shot only), polio (shot only), and rabies.

  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines use specific pieces of the germ, either its protein, sugar, or capsid, which is a casing occurring around the germ.

Because these vaccines use only specific pieces of the germ, they give a very strong immune response targeted to key parts of the germ. They can also be used on almost everyone who needs them, including those with weakened immune systems and long-term health problems.

This type of vaccine’s limitation is you may need booster shots to get ongoing protection against diseases.

These vaccine types are used to protect against: Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) disease, hepatitis B, HPV (Human papillomavirus), whooping cough (part of the DTaP combined vaccine), pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease and shingles.

  • Toxoid vaccines use a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ that causes a disease. They create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself. That means the immune response is targeted to the toxin instead of the whole germ. Booster shots may be required to get ongoing protection against diseases.

Toxoid vaccines are used to protect against: diphtheria and tetanus. 

Vaccines for Healthy Adults

The CDC recommends that all healthy adult women (and men) should receive the following immunizations:

  • Seasonal influenza vaccine annually – the flu vaccine is especially important for those with chronic health conditions, pregnant women and older adults. 
  • Tdap vaccine – all healthy adults should get this immunization once if it was not received as an adolescent to protect against whooping cough (pertussis.) 
  • Td (tetanus and diphtheria vaccine) – this vaccine should be given to all healthy adults every 10 years. It is vital that pregnant women receive the vaccine during each pregnancy.

The CDC offers an updated 2020 comprehensive schedule of vaccines and immunizations for healthy women and men. 

Health Conditions and Immunizations

Vaccines are especially critical for women experiencing certain health conditions. Women with these health conditions should be especially mindful of receiving appropriate immunizations and vaccines:

  • asplenia (faulty/no spleen)
  • diabetes Type 1 and Type 2
  • heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease
  • HIV infection
  • liver disease
  • lung disease (including asthma)
  • renal disease
  • and/or weakened immune system. 

Discuss your diagnosed health conditions with your physician to determine the recommended immunizations you need to incorporate within your personal healthcare plan. 

Preteens and Young Adult Immunizations 

All preteen girls age 11 to 12 years should receive the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine to protect against most cervical cancers. Ideally, the vaccine should be given before first sexual encounter. It can be administered beginning at age 9 years. The HPV vaccine may be given to young women through age 26 years if not previously vaccinated already. 

Some colleges and universities require students receive immunization for meningitis, a contagious disease that is especially a high risk among community living populations. College students living in dormitories, personnel on military bases and children in boarding schools and childcare facilities are at greater risk of meningococcal meningitis. This is probably because the bacterium spreads via respiratory route and spreads quickly through large groups. 

Pregnancy and Vaccines

Women planning pregnancy should know their current immunization record and discuss it with their OB/GYN practitioner before pregnancy occurs. 

MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is especially important for women to receive prior to pregnancy. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella virus. Rubella virus can be dangerous for pregnant women as it causes Congenital Rubella Syndrome, increasing risk of miscarriage, serious and severe birth defects and neurodevelopmental problems. Even though MMR is a safe and effective vaccine, there is theoretical risk to baby because it is a live vaccine, meaning it contains a weakened version of the living viruses.

Additionally, women should avoid becoming pregnant until one month after receiving MMR vaccine and her immunity is confirmed via blood test before she can safeguard an unborn baby through pregnancy.

Pregnant women require the following 2 vaccines during each pregnancy:

  • Tdap vaccine should be administered in the early part of the third trimester, between the 27-36 weeks of pregnancy, preferably during the earlier segment of this timeframe to help protect against whooping cough. 
  • Seasonal influenza shot should be administered during pregnancy to protect during flu season, which runs from October through May. Since babies younger than 6 months old cannot get a flu shot, your flu shot may protect her after they're born. 

The CDC recommends pregnant women get the flu vaccine by the end of October to help protect pregnant women before flu activity increases, as they are more likely to develop severe illness from flu, possibly due to changes within immune, heart and lung functions during pregnancy.

The Immunization Action Coalition and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offer a comprehensive overview of vaccinations for pregnant women.

Talk to your doctor about the MMR, Tdap, and flu vaccines before immunization. 

Pregnancy and Post-Pregnancy Immunizations 

If you are a pregnant woman who has work-related risk factors like working in a laboratory where exposure to viruses is a possibility or if you plan to travel to countries where meningococcal disease is known or prevalent, meningococcal vaccines may be recommended to protect you and your baby’s health. If you know you will be traveling, talk to your doctor 4 to 6 weeks prior to your trip to discuss special precautions or necessary immunizations.

Pregnant women with conditions like chronic liver disease may be recommended to consider hepatitis A vaccine. Those living with someone who has hepatitis A infection are also at risk and should discuss immunization with their doctor.

If a pregnant woman indicates hepatitis B risk, her doctor may direct her to be tested for the virus and schedule vaccination.

Post-partum vaccines for women are especially important if certain vaccinations weren’t administered prior to pregnancy. 

Baby’s Pre- and Post-Natal Immunity

Throughout pregnancy, baby receives some disease immunity from her mother which decreases with time once she’s born.  When baby is of appropriate age, she receives her own vaccines to protect against serious childhood diseases. 

It is important to note that it takes a full 2 weeks after immunization to develop the necessary antibodies within the immune system required for protection against disease.

Once baby is born, be sure all caregivers, relatives and friends visiting are up to date with their own immunizations before seeing and handling baby to create an additional circle of health protection.  Newborns do not have fully developed immune systems yet, making them particularly vulnerable to infections. When one household member has a respiratory illness, other family members are at risk for getting ill as well.

Babies who develop early disease are more often exposed because the people whom they are in contact with initially don’t have proper immunizations and vaccines themselves. Researchers have:

  • identified siblings and parents as the most common sources of whooping cough infection in young infants.
  • found that many other people can get babies sick, including grandparents, caregivers and family friends.

It is important newborn babies get started on the hepatitis B vaccination series within 24 hours of birth.

The CDC recommends these 2020 immunization guidelines for children from birth age through age 18 years. 

Women Age 50+

As we age, our immune system weakens. Vaccines and immunizations help our immune system become stronger. 

The following vaccines and immunizations are recommended for women ages 50+ years:

  • Shingles vaccine – protects against the disease and its complications. One out of 3 people develop shingles in their lifetime, and the risk of disease increases with age. 
  • Seasonal flu vaccine – More than 60% of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older. Getting a yearly vaccine reduces flu hospitalization and severity risks. 
  • Pneumonia vaccine – Older populations face greater risk of severe illness and even death if they are not protected. There are two types of pneumonia vaccine: 

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) protects against pneumococcal disease, including meningitis and blood stream infections. This vaccine is recommended for all adult women and men 65+ years and those adults younger than 65 years with certain diagnosed health conditions. 

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) protects against serious pneumococcal disease and pneumonia. This vaccine is recommended for adult women and men with diagnosed health conditions that weaken the immune system, as well as cerebrospinal fluid leak or those with cochlear implants. 

Those adults who are 65+ years and have never received the PCV13 vaccine and don’t have any of the conditions described may discuss PCV13 vaccination with their doctor to see if it should be included within their personal care plan.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team is here for you and your family should you have questions or concerns regarding updating your immunizations and vaccines, consideration of potential additional vaccines that relate to recently diagnosed health conditions (including thoughts of pregnancy) or changing work environments which may require special precautions and what you can do to optimally protect yourself and safeguard others from infectious diseases.  

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/rec-vac/index.html

https://www.arobgyn.com/5-vaccines-every-woman-needs/

https://www.menopause.org/for-women/consumers/2017/02/08/immunizations-for-adult-women

https://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4040.pdf

https://www.acog.org/programs/immunization-for-women

https://www.womenshealth.gov/blog/vaccines

https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/types

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