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Veterans Health Administration

Got shots? Vets will need flu shots…maybe more.

Nurse giving a man a shot

Stephanie McGrath, RN, administers vaccine to Korean War Veteran Luiz R. Aponte-Rodriguez at VA’s New York Harbor Healthcare System, New York Campus.

You can’t stop time, but you can stop some serious diseases before they ever start.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, the perfect time for Veterans and their families to catch up on their vaccinations.

As VA health care workers prepare for the upcoming flu season, it’s important for all Vets to get the right vaccines in the right doses at the right time.

“Immunizations are one of the safest medical interventions we have.”

— Dr. Linda Kinsinger, Chief Consultant for VA Preventive Medicine

“Immunization is one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century,” according to Dr. Linda Kinsinger, Chief Consultant for VA Preventive Medicine. “Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, eliminated wild poliovirus in the U.S., and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles and other diseases. They are the most dramatic health advancement in the last 100 years.”

“I hope Veterans will understand that immunizations are one of the safest medical interventions we have. They’re quick, easy and very effective.”

Terri Murphy, RN, MSN, VA’s National Program Manager for Prevention Policy, stresses the importance of all Veterans checking with their health care team to make sure they are up-to-date on recommended vaccines. Here is a list of some of the most important vaccines:

Influenza

All Veterans should get the yearly flu vaccine.

Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis Vaccines

There are several formulations of these vaccines used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

  • Td is a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine given to adults as a booster shot every 10 years, or after an exposure to tetanus under some circumstances.
  • Tdap is similar to Td but also contains protection against pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Adults 19 through 64 years of age should receive a single dose of Tdap in place of a dose of Td. 
  • For adults 65 and older who have close contact with an infant and have not previously received Tdap, one dose should be received.

HPV Vaccine

“It’s recommended that women Veterans up to the age of 26 have the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine,” Murphy notes, adding, “HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual contact. Most of the time HPV has no symptoms so people do not know they have it.”

There are approximately 40 types of genital HPV. Some types can cause cervical cancer in women and can also cause other kinds of cancer in both men and women. Other types can cause genital warts in both males and females. The HPV vaccine works by preventing infection with the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is given in a series of three doses.

Murphy also stresses the importance of continued screening for cervical cancer even for those women Veterans who received the HPV vaccine.

Shingles

All Veterans 60 and older should receive the vaccination called Zoster which helps to prevent shingles.

Shingles is a painful localized skin rash often with blisters that is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles because VZV remains in the nerve cells of the body after the chickenpox infection clears. The virus can reappear years later, causing shingles.

Shingles occurs more commonly as people get older.

Pneumococcal disease

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria. There are different types of pneumococcal disease including pneumonia and meningitis.

The vaccine for pneumococcal disease is recommended for Veterans who are:

  • 65 years of age and older.
  • Up to 64 years of age who have a long-term health problem such as heart disease, lung disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, alcoholism or cirrhosis.
  • Up to 64 years of age who have a disease or condition that lowers the body’s resistance to infection.
  • Up to 64 years of age who are taking a drug or treatment that lowers the body’s resistance to infection including long-term steroids, certain cancer drugs or radiation therapy.
  • 19 through 64 years of age and are smokers or have asthma.
  • Residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
Murphy points out that all Veterans who have chronic diseases should discuss the need for the pneumococcal vaccine with their health care team.

Hepatitis Vaccines

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A can affect anyone. Vaccines are available for persons who were not already immunized and are at risk for the disease. Good personal hygiene and proper sanitation can also help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for persons who were not already immunized and are at risk for the disease.

Murphy also suggests that Veterans should get vaccines for the following if they did not get them as a child or when they entered military service: MMR vaccine against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, and the chickenpox vaccine Varicella.

Why a Shot?

And that question we’ve all been asking since we were five: Why do we have to get a shot? Why can’t we just take a pill?

The answer is that some vaccines, such as the one for typhoid, are actually given orally. There is also a version of the flu vaccine that is sprayed in the nose. It’s available for healthy people less than 50 years of age.

However, as Murphy explains, “The reason you have to get a shot is because some vaccines are digested and destroyed by stomach acid before the body has time to respond and form antibodies.”

Top Priority

Immunizations are a top priority for the Veterans Health Administration. VA reaches over 80 percent of Veterans over 65 with the flu vaccine and provides the pneumococcal vaccine to almost 95 percent of Veteran patients who should receive it.

Veterans and their families should review these helpful websites with important information on vaccines provided by VA and Centers for Disease Control:
  www.publichealth.va.gov/vaccines.asp
  www.prevention.va.gov/Get_Recommended_Vaccines_and_Screening_Tests.asp
  www.cdc.gov/vaccines
  www.flu.gov
  www.publichealth.va.gov/flu