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Monalisa Tailor: Immunization are an important part of personal health no matter how old you are

After one of the worst influenza seasons to date, it’s become clearer than ever to me that nature is constantly adapting. Viruses are getting smarter and we must adapt to protect ourselves. 

Thanks in large part to advances in medicine, physicians have an arsenal of tools to help patients stay ahead of preventable diseases.  One of the most important tools, the vaccine, exposes your body to features of the virus and bacteria so it can create antibodies to help defend you against the disease.

I simply cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated. From my experience, this past season, individuals who received the flu vaccine yet were still unfortunate enough to contract the flu, recovered faster and suffered less compared to those who did not. This is because their bodies recognized the virus and were better prepared to fight it.

A healthcare provider in our office was required to get the flu vaccine. Her husband did not. When they both came down with the flu, he missed more than a week of work and eventually contracted pneumonia. She, on the other hand, recovered far more quickly and experienced symptoms that were much less severe. She also didn’t get pneumonia.

But the flu vaccine is just one of the many recommended immunizations available to protect us.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ found that pneumococcal disease still strikes nearly a million people each year in the U.S. Of those, nearly 18,000 adults 65 and older die as a result.  A recent study out of the University of Louisville indicates that older patients might not even be aware they are more at risk for certain diseases as an adult because immunity wears off as we age. Over the two-year study, more than 8,200 people in Louisville were admitted to the hospital due to pneumonia.

This can be easily prevented with proper immunizations. Not only will it reduce hospital visits, but also greatly reduce the number of deaths due to pneumonia. The UofL study backs up these claims, demonstrating a 45.6% reduction in community-acquired pneumonia for those that received vaccinations.  According to the lead author on the study, Julio Ramirez, these immunizations could prevent thousands of hospitalizations.

Vaccines also help prevent other diseases, like shingles, tetanus, pertussis and hepatitis. Sadly, Kentucky is leading the country in hepatitis A cases with the only viable options to combat the virus being vaccinations and good hand hygiene.

I encourage every Kentuckian to be mindful that vaccines help our bodies become smarter and stronger to fight off viral and bacterial infections. We want the best for our children, so we must be diligent about their immunizations.  However, as adults, we must do a better job of ensuring we are also protected.

Vaccines are widely regarded as one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century. No one should be denied the chance to see their grandchild graduate or to go on their dream vacation because they weren’t properly immunized.

As the great LeVar Burton used to say, “but you don’t have to take my word for it”.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also urges the pneumococcal vaccine for adults 65 and older.  I encourage them to maintain this recommendation to help ensure access for everyone. Together, we can protect seniors in Kentucky and across the country from this deadly disease.

Dr. Monalisa Tailor is an internal medicine physician in Louisville.

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