Flu season 2018 is set to begin, and the world wide experience of flu season over the last year argues this is a very good year to consider getting yourself vaccinated.
The flu season in the US, a bell weather for the Australian experience, points toward a very busy season for the doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals this year. The US reported over 34 million cases of confirmed influenza, with over 56, 000 deaths this season alone. Last year, Australia reported over 3,000 deaths. The majority of those taken most severely ill were those over the age of 65.
The Australian Department of Health recommends the flu vaccine for everyone aged 65 and older, and it is a free vaccine in this age group. In addition, the vaccine is free for all children ages 6 months to 5 years of age, and for all Aboriginal/Torres Straight Islanders over the age of 14.
All pregnant women, at any stage of their pregnancy, can have the vaccine free of charge, and are encouraged to get vaccinated.
Additionally, patients of any age with a history of heart disease, a chronic respiratory condition (such as emphysema, or severe asthma), chronic kidney disease, or other chronic medical condition such as diabetes, can have a free flu vaccine. There are other chronic health problems that can also result in access to a free flu shot, so speak to your doctor or nurse if you have a question about this.
The pneumonia vaccine is part of the free vaccine program for infants, and is routinely given at the 2, 4 and 6 month visits. The current guidelines recommend that adults get a single pneumonia vaccine at age 65, and it is free in this age group. There are some situations where a patient might have additional booster dosages, every 5 years, for a total of 3. Some of these indications include asplenia (not having a spleen), on chronic prednisone, having cancer, chronic renal failure, intracranial shunts or Cochlear implants.
In addition, a free single dose of the vaccine is available at any age for those with heart disease, emphysema, severe asthma, chronic liver disease and for smokers.
Whooping cough vaccine
The whooping cough needle, is a combination of tetanus, diphtheria and the whooping cough vaccine. A version of this is given as part of the standard childhood vaccine series at the 2, 4, and 6 month visits, and boosters provided at 18 months, 4 years and at age 11. However, the immunity provided by this vaccine does fade over time. It is now recommended that this combination vaccine be offered to everyone at age 50, who has not had a previous booster within the last 10 years. Similarly, it is recommended that all patients be offered the vaccine at, or beyond, the 65th year, again provided that the patient has not had a booster in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the cost of these boosters are not covered beyond the one given at age 11. The price for the vaccine varies, but typically it is close to the $50 mark.
All pregnant women, in their third trimester, should receive a booster vaccine, and this booster is free of charge.
Additionally, all of those patients expecting to come in contact with a new baby (grandparents, uncles, aunts, or family members and friends of the new parents) are recommended to have the vaccine at least 2 weeks prior to the expected time of contact. This helps to ensure the newly arrived infant is not exposed to anyone carrying the illness. The vaccine cost in this situation is not covered by the Department of Health.
Shingles occurs most commonly in those over 50, and by one’s 85 birthday, there is a 50% chance of having had shingles. Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus that lives within the body in anyone that has developed chicken pox at any point in their life. While someone with shingles cannot give shingles to anyone else, they can give chicken pox to anyone that has not had the disease or had the childhood vaccine.
The Department of Health recommends that everyone consider getting the shingles vaccine at, or shortly after, their 70th birthday. This vaccine is free for everyone age 70 to 79. There are individuals that may not be able to have this vaccine due to other medical issues. This includes persons receiving high-dose systemic immunosuppressive therapy, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, oral corticosteroids, anti-rheumatic drugs (bDMARDs or tsDMARDs); persons suffering from malignant conditions of the reticuloendothelial system (such as lymphoma, leukaemia, Hodgkin’s disease, even if not receiving active treatment); persons with AIDS or symptomatic HIV infection; and any person with similar immunocompromise due to a disease or treatment. Additionally, if you have had shingles recently, you must wait until 12 months from your time of diagnosis before you are able to receive the vaccine. Your doctor and nurse team can review your individual case to ensure that this vaccine is safe for you.