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New Immunizations for Adults

For a long time, most healthy adults have had only three vaccines to keep track of: flu, pneumococcal pneumonia, and the tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster.// But now two new vaccines have joined the list, reports the October 2006 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Shingles vaccine: The culprit that causes shingles is the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. In most people who have had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant and harmless for life. But in up to 15%, the virus becomes active and causes shingles, a painful line of blisters on one side of the body. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.

The new vaccine, Zostavax, is suggested for people ages 60 and older but should not be given to people with weakened immune systems. Doctors don’t yet know how long the vaccine’s protection will last or if booster shots will be needed, says Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Whooping cough booster: Whooping cough (pertussis) is making a comeback because the childhood vaccine’s protection wanes over time. Immunities to tetanus and diphtheria wear off, too, which is why doctors advise a Td booster every 10 years. But until now, boosters for adolescents and adults lacked the pertussis vaccine, because the traditional vaccine often caused older people to develop fever and other reactions. The new acellular pertussis vaccine, called Tdap, is less likely to cause such problems, says Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Two brands of the new vaccine are available: Boostrix for ages 10-18, and Adacel for ages 11-64. Adolescents should get a Tdap booster 5 years after their last Td shot; adults should get it 10 years after their last Td booster.

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