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Vaccinate for a Healthy Life

By Catherine Ruhl, MS, CNM

Vaccinate for a Healthy Life

You may think vaccines are just for babies and children but vaccines are an important strategy for staying healthy your whole life.

Vaccines stimulate our immune systems to create antibodies against diseases that can cause serious illness, especially at certain times of our lives—like pregnancy and as we age.

As adults, we need vaccines, especially if we didn’t get all of them as children. We may need to repeat some vaccines because immunity can fade over time. And, we may get updated vaccines because the vaccines available today may give better protection than ones we may have received 20 or more years ago.


Protect Your Health; Protect Your Family

When you’re up-to-date on all of your vaccines, you can feel confident you’ve decreased your chances of getting sick or passing on illness to family, friends and co-workers. Plus, you’ll have less chance of missing work or school due to illness. After all, who has time to get sick?

Ask your nurse or healthcare provider about these vaccines:
Flu (influenza); recommended annually for everyone, very important to get this during pregnancy
Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Td/Tdap)—Tdap is recommended with every pregnancy, otherwise, once as an adult (Tdap), and a Td booster every 10 years

The following vaccines are recommended if you didn’t receive them as a child:

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts; recommended for women ages 9-26
Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR)
Chickenpox (varicella)

These vaccines are recommended for adults with certain risks due to their occupations, health conditions or lifestyles:

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccines; recommended particularly for people with specific risk factors for exposure to these viral diseases, such as if you travel where the disease is prevalent, have a blood clotting disorder, work in health care or an environment where you’re exposed to bodily fluids, or have HIV or chronic liver or kidney disease

Haemophilus influenza type B (HIB)
Pneumococcal vaccines: recommended at age 65 and older and at younger ages with certain risks factors
Shingles: one dose is recommended at age 60 or greater, possibly recommended younger than age 60 for certain risk factors
Meningococcal vaccine; particularly recommended if you’re age 21 or under and a first-year college student living in a residence hall and you either have never been vaccinated or were vaccinated before age 16

Vaccines & Pregnancy

If you’re planning to get pregnant, make sure you’re up to date on your vaccines. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older every flu season. There are certain vaccines you should have before you become pregnant because they aren’t safe to have during pregnancy, like the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and the chickenpox (varicella) vaccines.

These illnesses can cause major birth defects if you catch them while pregnant, so it’s particularly important to get vaccinated before pregnancy—especially if you didn’t have these vaccines and/or illnesses as a child. Ask your healthcare provider if you’re unsure whether you need them.


Vaccines During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your immune system is suppressed so that your body doesn’t reject your growing baby. This is why a flu shot is recommended for all pregnant women to protect against severe illness that could not only cause a pregnant woman to be very ill but also could cause her baby to be born prematurely. The flu vaccine also provides immunity for the baby from the flu during pregnancy and through your breastmilk post-birth; this is particularly important since the flu vaccine isn’t recommended for babies younger than 6 months.
This is the same reason the pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is recommended for pregnant women in the 3rd trimester of each pregnancy. This vaccine protects baby against pertussis (whooping cough), which can cause serious illness or even death in young babies. The pertussis vaccine is also recommended for any adult who will be providing care for a baby newborn to 12 months, especially parents, grandparents and caregivers.


Questions about which vaccines you do or don’t need? Check out this handy online chart from immunize.org: bit.ly/vaccinations4adults   (http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4030.pdf)
Find immunization schedules for adults from the CDC here: bit.ly/vaccineschedules


Related Articles

Amanda Peete supports vaccinating your baby Why you should vaccinate your baby

Pregnant women should get vaccinated during flu seasonStay healthy during flu season by getting vaccinated


Catherine Ruhl, MS, CNM, is director of Women’s Health for AWHONN.

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