Monday, October 15, 2012

Taking the Shingles Vaccine-What Do You Think?

Note: although this is about health choices in retirement years, the story would not be complete without the first couple of paragraphs

I have not been feeling well lately.  Not sick mind you, just sore and aggravated. My issues have been minor but they have been driving me crazy. First, I have been having sensitivity on my neck and jaw, and I honestly thought I had an ear infection. Then, the long muscle that goes down the  side of the neck (on the same side), was sore and sensitive.  My family physician was unable to see me until today, so Saturday I broke down and went to what we fancifully call the "quack shack" (the local walk in clinic).

Again, I went because I thought at least half of my problems were caused by an ear infection and wanted the good drugs. Turns out that I had no ear infection. The clinic doctor noted that he had no explanation for my symptoms. He then noticed a small nodule or lump on the base of my neck and told me that was a lymphnode.  Then he told me that my symptoms could be early onset shingles, and sent me home with antibiotics and pain pill prescriptions-the narcotic type.  Which, by the way, I did not fill.

Today I went and saw my "regular" doctor. My neck and jaw symptoms were almost negligible, but they had come and gone before. He also saw no reason for the symptoms.  He informed me that my tiny nodule lump was NOT a lymph node, just a cyst that needed to be watched to see if it changed and was unrelated or connected to anything else. He reminded me that I had in fact driven from Denver last week and may have driven at an unusual angle. He also said I may have some early onset arthritis in my neck (likely with my family history). He recommended watching, adding ibuprofen, using heat and doing range of motion exercises.

The meat of this post though, is this.  We discussed shots and the like-he suggested I wait until after Halloween to have a flu shot. He also told me that he really didn't care if I got the shingles vaccine or not.  Mind you, this is a "get your shots and take your meds' kind of guy. While he appreciates my daughter's natural approach and encourages exercise, he's all about modern medicine and it's advantages. Yet he told me it was my choice but it was not something he would demand.

Our discussion included the fact that the vaccine is fifty percent effective at the maximum. The chicken pox vaccine is a live virus, almost fourteen times stronger than the chicken pox. As with any live viruses, especially such a potent one, there can be side effects and symptoms including joint pain, muscle pain and fever.  It's interesting to note that the herd immunity phenomena for chicken pox has actually increased the risk for adult vaccines.  The disease can apparently be treated as soon as it's diagnosed.  And of course, the shot  is an average of over $200.  Making the cost for my son's meningitis shot look awfully cheap. On the other hand, shingles are darned painful (from what I understand) until treatment is begun, and ten to twenty percent of people develop nerve pain, or postherpetic neuralgia.

So, I'm still looking at this issue. In general, the only shot I have traditionally taken that's not a sure thing is the flu shot-which actually is a sure thing for the strains inoculated for. While I am severely overweight, overall in terms of energy and immune issues, I eat well and stay healthy. So, It's a conundrum.  I know the CDC recommends the vaccine for anyone over 60, and I'm now sixty one.

Folks, I would love to hear from you all on this. You don't have to be sixty.  Have you thought about this?  Had the shot? Talked with your practitioner about this one? What about the pneumonia vaccine?  Have you had that one?  Will you at some point?  I haven't considered it at this point, but I have an adult child who had childhood asthma and smokes (I know, I know). He should probably have it. How do you feel about natural immunity versus vaccinations?

Let me have it, I'm all ears on this one.

20 comments:

  1. We have the exact same discussion going on in our house - vaccine or no vaccine - but for a very different reason. My father-in-law, in his early 90's, is now suffering from shingles for the SECOND time in 10 years. This last round has lasted more than six months (with treatment) and has been extremely painful. Medication made it better, but did not by any means "cure" it. My husband wants to get the vaccine now because he's seen how painful the disease is. I'm not big on vaccines (or any meds really), so I probably won't get it. Luckily, either way, our insurance pays for it (a huge surprise, actually). It's a tough call, I understand.

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  2. Just saw your question on the pneumonia vaccine. I'm a huge YES on this one! My doctor talked me into it four years ago (it lasts for 5 years) and I am so glad I got it. I have respiratory difficulties (asthma) and the smallest cold goes straight to my chest and turns into pneumonia and/or bronchitis. Since I got this vaccine, NO cold has put me down. I might feel "cold-ish" for two or three days, but I have fought off every single cold for several years now, and that's done babysitting my grandson, who brings in every germ imaginable from his day at school. Yes yes yes, get this one :) Your son should too!

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  3. Hi Barb. I am new to post, but have been reading and enjoying your blog for a while. Both my husband and I received the vaccine this year with no unwanted side effects. I was very much influenced by witnessing first hand the painful lesions from shingles. Most of my patients are immunocompromised, and watching some of them suffer with the lingering post herpetic neuralgia was enough to convince me.

    That being said, there are obviously many people who don't get the vaccine, and don't get shingles. I guess it comes down to risk tolerance. Hopefully others will chime in to give you additional points of view.

    Carole

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  4. Oh yes, I got the shingles vaccine. Even though it is not perfect at keeping you from getting them, my understanding is that if you do get it the severity is diminished. I listened to my parents when they suffered from shingles and I prefer to reduce my odds of living through that. I also keep current on the pneumonia vaccine. Initially I was given it when I had a temporary heart problem but again I see no reason to risk being seriously ill. And always the flu vaccine each year. There is so much we can't prevent or impact regarding our health that I do whatever I can.

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  5. Joan, thanks for sharing-I need to see what my insurance covers. I still havent asked for reimbursement on sons meningitis shot. My son is a recovering asthmatic (no asthma since middle school) but has the exact same reaction as you. Thats the way I am with the flu..I go under but they I come back up.

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  6. Carole welcome and thanks for posting, please stop by and comment often. I probably will endup getting the vaccine...

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  7. Juhli, I agree.......usually I only get the flu vaccine but at sixty one, I guess its time to expand.

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  8. Hi Barb. It just so happens that I got my shingles shot the other day. Fortunately health insurance covers the cost. I have seen a couple of seniors who had a really bad time with shingles so I am willing to do anything to prevent getting it....or getting it bad.

    I am the same age( and shape) as you. :0) I always get my flu shot and have had the pneumonia shot because ....like Joan J....any cold goes to my chest.

    I am also a keen gardener and travel in poorer countries a lot....so I also make sure to have my tetnus shot every 10 years. Actually, for some countries I will also get the yearly typhoid shot and have had the one time series of 3 Hepatitis shots. I was told that it was good to have the 3 Hep. shots now because insurance would pay for them but after I go onto Medicare they will not. Something to think about as you plan your shots.
    aloha

    shesh....that is a lot of holes poked into me......It is good that insurance covered them all.

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  9. My husband and I both had the shingles shot...our doctors encouraged us to do so. No side effects whatsoever and our insurance covered it.

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  10. Mom and I got our flu shots last week. I also got the pneumonia shot since I've never had one. My colds seem to always go straight to my chest. I have suffered from pneumonia & bronchitis many times in the past so I thought it best to get it. I am still a couple of years away from 60, but I will probably get the shingles shot. My Aunt was put in the hospital several times from shingles. It was very painful for her. Also too from what I have read, shingles is contagious to people who haven't had chickenpox. I don't remember anyone else on either side of my family ever getting it other than her. I don't know. . .I will keep reading about it and make my decision when it's time. I'm more of a natural type of person when it comes to my health, but sometimes I think you need an extra boost to help your health.

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  11. I've also enjoyed your post for awhile; this is my first comment. I am asthmatic, have bad allergies & am overweight. I got the shot, although my homeopath is not big on vaccines. I am the exception to her rule. I have gotten healthier lately (especially since I retired) but I'm like Joan J---EVERYTHING goes to my lungs so I get a pneumonia shot as well as a flu shot.

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  12. Barb,
    I am sure that this is a difficult choice for most folks, but I will roll the dice and hope for the best since I am a relatively healthy person. My mother-in-law had shingles several years ago and indeed suffered, but not to the point that she would even consider a vaccine to prevent a second round. At 83 she is, and has always been, completely "drug free" and in good health. Although not from the same gene pool, I am trying to follow in her footsteps.

    I do however, understand that anyone with respiratory ailments might want to consider the pneumonia shot.

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  13. My doc recommended the shingles shot, and DH was going to ask his doc whether he should get one. A couple of days before his appt he came down with shingles,and it wasn't over in 10 days with the antifungals. Very unpleasant and we have heard since of people who got shingles in their eye or mouth which would be so much worse. I went ahead and got the shot and had no side effects. His doc said he should get a shot in 5 years and I am sure he will.

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  14. The shot is now open to 50 and over so I will be getting the shot. Our DD#2 has had shingles 2 times which is crazy young for shingles but it happens at times. The pain she has had to deal with is so bad, I wouldn't wan to take the chance of getting it. Our insurance will cover the cost so it is on my wish list for the next visit to the Dr.

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  15. Great topic. Wish there was a clearer answer. I too have read that the CDC recommends the shot for anyone over 60 -- but only a 50% reduction in your chances to get the disease? Not that good.

    My older sister got the shot; told me I should get one. I'll ask my doctor at my next physical, in Nov.

    Does anyone know if shingles is at all hereditary? If a parent had it, are you more likely to get it?

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  16. My husband and I both got the shot. We're in good health but don't want to take the chance of shingles, which I've heard is quite painful. We had no side effects.

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  17. Tom. . .when I was reading up on the vaccine, whether or not it was hereditary came up. The experts are saying that it is not. But someone with shingles is definitely contagious to anyone who has not had chicken pox. Hope that helps!

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  18. Lori ... Thanks! I'm thinking I'll pass on the shot this year, but will ask my doctor when I see him.

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  19. Oh I have had the vaccination...I am not going to go through that painful ordeal if I can avoid it. As for the wrong diagnosis or even you doctor's attitude toward vaccination, in the end we have to decide for ourselves. Getting them over with just eases our minds.

    You take care of yourself. You are important to us.

    b

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  20. The shingles vaccine is more effective if you get it while you are younger. For people in their 60's, it is 70 to 80% effective. For people in their seventies, effectiveness drops to about 50%. If you get the vaccine in your 80's, it is only about 15 to 20% effective. Every little bit helps, but it is best to get the vaccine as soon as possible for maximum protection.

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