The Value of Vaccinations

Dr. Jennifer Neville with BJC Medical Group discusses the value of vaccinations.


What is the flu shot and why should somebody get one?

The flu shot is basically a vaccine. The flu shot is kind of like an educated guess at the strain of flu that we're going to have for the year. It's not a 100% sure thing; it's an educated guess. It's based off data in other parts of the world. We give that deadened part of the virus, and your immune system learns to fight it. The idea is that if you're exposed to that virus you actually won't get it because your body can fight it off, or if you do get it, you're going to have a shortened course or a more mild case.

Are there special vaccinations for older people?

The high-dose flu shot is actually specialized for people over age 65. Over age 65, your immune system is sometimes not as good and you're more likely to get the flu. You're more likely to get pneumonia as well and so that's why we recommend the high-dose flu shot. Then, there's two different pneumonia shots that are on the market: Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Everybody over age 65 should have those vaccines.

Are there any new vaccines that people should be aware of?

There's the new Shingrix shot that's on the market. It's for shingles. It's a series of two injections about four to six months apart. It's a lot more effective than the older vaccine that we had out. The old vaccine was a live virus so people who were immunocompromised could not get it. So if you were on chemo, you couldn't get it. But this newer one is actually a dead virus, so it's offered for all those people and helps prevent shingles. That's a really good vaccine as well.

Can you still get the flu after receiving the flu shot?

No vaccine is a sure thing. We're trying to kind of teach the immune system how to fight something, but it's not for sure. It could be that you got a heavy dose of the flu. Maybe someone coughed right in your face and you got a lot of flu particles, and they just kind of overwhelmed your immune system. Everybody's different. Our immune systems are different. Some are better than others so I don't have a sure answer as to why sometimes you get it and sometimes you don't, but those are some theories anyway.