Vaccines

Should my child get the measles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Should I vaccinate my daughter against measles?

DEAR READER: I was born before there was a measles vaccine, and I got the measles. Like most kids, I had a rash and a fever. (See the feature image for a photo of the measles rash.) And, like most kids, within one or two weeks I was back to normal. I remember, though, that my mother seemed more worried about me than she had been when I caught other viral illnesses. She knew three things I didn't. First, measles could sometimes cause very serious illness (blindness, brain and lung infections), even death.

Why do I need to have another pneumonia vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 70 years old. I already had a pneumonia vaccine, back when I was 65. At my checkup last week, my doctor said I need to get another one. Why?

DEAR READER: I always like to hear that adults are staying up to date with their vaccinations, as you did when you received a dose of the PPSV23 (Pneumovax) vaccine at age 65. Pneumovax helps protect against pneumonia caused by one common type of bacteria, called pneumococcus.

How do vaccines work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written many columns about vaccines. Can you explain how they work?

DEAR READER: A vaccine prompts your immune system to build immunity against a particular germ. It mimics what would happen naturally if the germ entered your body. In order to understand how vaccines work, though, it helps to understand how your body's immune system works.

Is there a treatment or vaccine being created for Ebola?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Like everyone, I'm afraid that the Ebola virus could spread in the United States. There must be research underway to find treatments, and vaccines to prevent it in the first place. Please tell me there is.

DEAR READER: Infection with the Ebola virus is indeed frightening. In West Africa, the site of the latest outbreak of Ebola, more than half the people who have become infected with it have died. I doubt there will be an epidemic of Ebola in the U.S. and other developed nations, but there have been cases, and there will be more.

Is there evidence the HPV vaccine has real benefits?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter's pediatrician would like her to have the HPV vaccine. I'm not sure. Is there evidence the HPV vaccine has some real benefit?

DEAR READER: Yes, there is evidence -- overwhelming evidence. And with this vaccine, the benefit is not that it will reduce the risk of a short-lived illness, like the flu. This vaccine will reduce your daughter's risk of getting a common and life-threatening cancer. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and genital warts

Who should NOT get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written about who should get the shingles vaccine, and why. Are there any groups of people who should not get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR READER: I'm glad you asked because, yes, there are groups of people who should not get the vaccine. Shingles is a painful skin rash, often with blisters, that lasts from two to four weeks. Its main symptom is pain, which can be quite severe. For some people, the severe pain of shingles continues long after the rash clears up. Called post-herpetic neuralgia, this condition can last for months, or even years. It can be quite debilitating.

Do I need the shingles vaccine if I’ve already had shingles?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've already had shingles. Do I still need to get a shingles vaccine?

DEAR READER: Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the skin changes of chickenpox go away, but the virus that caused it remains alive inside your nerves. It is inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life. This causes shingles.

Do I need to get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have never had chickenpox. Do I still need to get a shingles vaccine?

DEAR READER: Not everyone knows the connection between chickenpox (a childhood disease) and shingles (a condition that usually hits adults). So let's begin with that. Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by the same virus: varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Once you have had chickenpox, VZV remains in your body's nerve tissues for the rest of your life, alive but inactive.

Should I get vaccinated against whooping cough?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter wants me to get a booster shot for pertussis. She says it will help protect her young kids against whooping cough. Is this true?

DEAR READER: Your daughter is right. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes violent coughing. The coughing makes it hard to breathe and produces a deep "whooping" sound. Pertussis can occur at any age, but infants and young children are most likely to become seriously ill from the infection.

Are flu shots safe for children?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Does my child really need a flu shot? How do I know it's safe?

DEAR READER: Every fall and winter, parents face the question: Should my child get an influenza (flu) shot? Many parents worry about risks and side effects, and if the shot is really necessary or worthwhile.