The Shingles Vaccine Is an Effective Way to Stop a Common and Painful Infection

March 24, 2021

When people think about innovations that have had an effect on society, they think about cell phones or electric cars. However, there’s no discovery that’s had a larger impact on the world than vaccines. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccinations saved more than 10 million lives between 2010 and 2015. Vaccines have such an impact in modern life that April 24-30 is dedicated to World Immunization Week.

This year, we’ve all been talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are more diseases that can be effectively prevented with a vaccine – like shingles.

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What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a painful red rash usually appearing as a strip of blisters on either side of the torso. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and while it isn’t fatal, it is very painful and can have a big effect to the day to day life of people who experience it.

It’s possible the pain can last long after the blisters have gone away. Other complications include:

  • Vision loss
  • Neurological problems
  • Skin infections

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Risk Factors

If you’ve ever had chickenpox, the virus — varicella-zoster — is dormant in your body and you can get shingles. Most adults had chickenpox when they were kids because there wasn’t a vaccine available in the United States until 1995.

Shingles can affect people at any age but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated at 50, because that’s when the immune system starts to weaken. There are some estimates that half of the people who live to 85 will get shingles.

People with cancer, particularly leukemia and lymphoma, or HIV and transplant recipients are at greater risk. Treatments that suppress the immune system also put people at greater risk.

Women are more likely than men to get shingles, with one study finding women were 62% of the cases. Some evidence shows the hormonal changes women go through when they’re pregnant and during menopause could trigger shingles.

Non-Hispanic whites are also more likely to get shingles compared with African Americans who are 50 percent less likely to get the illness.

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Get Vaccinated

No one needs to get shingles. There have been vaccines since 2006. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved Shingrix and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for people over 50.

Shingrix is made from a dormant portion of the virus. It’s given in two doses with two to six months between each dose. Some vaccinated people still get shingles, but it typically goes away faster and is less severe. It’s recommended for anyone who has had chickenpox and those who aren’t sure if they’ve had it. Even if you’ve had shingles, you should still get vaccinated: the disease typically occurs once in a lifetime but has been known to come back.

It is also recommended to get the Shingrix vaccine if you were vaccinated with Zostavax, the first vaccine approved in the U.S. It’s no longer used here and it only provides five years of protection.

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Who’s Getting Vaccinated?

The National Center for Health Services did a study of people 60 and over getting shingles vaccinations. The number has gone up from 6.7% in 2008 to 34.5% in 2018. Non-Hispanic white adults were twice as likely as African Americans to get shingles, and also twice as likely to get vaccinated — 38.6% to 18.8%. Hispanic adults were vaccinated at a rate of 19.5%. It’s likely that low awareness, both of the disease and the vaccine, are to blame for this lower rates.

Reduce Your Risk at AltaMed

AltaMed doctors can talk to you about the benefits of getting the shingles vaccine. They can go over your risk factors and put you on the schedule to receive the two-dose Shingrix vaccine.

Primary care doctors are available to assist you with your overall health and advise you on immunizations, like for shingles. They are also available to treat you, should you contract the disease.

Our women’s health specialists understand the unique needs of women and can counsel you regarding shingles, its effects on women, and when it’s the right time to get vaccinated.

Since seniors are most often affected, our geriatric specialists can guide independent older adults and caregivers in making healthful choices. They can also arrange for the shingles vaccine.

For more information about AltaMed services and facilities, visit AltaMed.org or call (888) 499-9303.

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What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

December 17, 2020

As part of the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, health care workers and people at the highest risk of complications from the disease will begin receiving the vaccine. This is due to an incredible effort by pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective in protecting adults against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working closely with state and local health departments and other partners to develop plans to get the vaccine out. Other vaccines are in the approval process, so there is not just one COVID-19 vaccine.

What was the COVID-19 vaccine approval process?

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Many thousands of patients were given the COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials. These trials are closely monitored research programs conducted with volunteers to see if a new drug or medical treatment is effective. The FDA approved the current vaccines because the research findings in the COVID-19 vaccine trials were proven to have minimal side effects and be highly effective in preventing COVID-19 in adults.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

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Vaccines approved by the FDA have been tested in more than 40 thousand volunteers. Side-effects were very mild and similar to the flu vaccine. The FDA is working with the health care community to monitor closely the reaction of those who have been vaccinated. With the information that we have currently, the vaccines have been evaluated as safe and can start protecting us and our community against COVID-19.

When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently there is a limited supply available of the vaccines, and the first doses will go to health care workers and those with the most vulnerable immune systems. It will then be rolled out to different portions of the population in a fair, ethical, and transparent way. AltaMed is working closely with state and local health officials to ensure our patients have access to the vaccines as soon as possible.

How many shots will I need for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Most COVID-19 vaccines available in the first phase require a “booster” shot, or second shot, to get the entire benefit.

How much will it cost?

We don’t anticipate our AltaMed patients will need to pay for the vaccine. Administration of the vaccine may be charged to your health plan.

Where do I go to get the vaccine?

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Once the vaccine is more widely available, AltaMed will offer the vaccine to those who meet the priority criteria during each phase of the distribution process.

Will the vaccines give you COVID-19?

None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19. Any response to the vaccine is a sign that the body is building immunity and learning how to fight the virus. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination, so it is possible that a person who was recently immunized could still get sick with COVID-19.

Do I need to get vaccinated if I have already had COVID-19?

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Re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, so people may be advised to get vaccinated even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.
The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long.
We won’t know how long immunity produced by vaccination lasts until we have more data on how well it works.

How soon after getting vaccinated can I stop wearing a mask and staying physically distant?

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There is not enough information currently available to say if or when CDC will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before making that decision.

AltaMed is Here for You

AltaMed doctors recommend getting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to protect you and your family from getting sick. Getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Protection from COVID-19 is critically important because for many people, it can cause severe illness or death.

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available. Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed.

Even after there has been widespread vaccination, for a while longer, we’ll still need to:

  • Wear a face covering
  • Wash our hands frequently
  • Maintain physical distance

As the situation changes, AltaMed will keep you informed.

AltaMed can provide information to you and your family about the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. To receive the latest news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, sign up today.

Don’t Wait for Flu Season to Get Your Flu Shot

October 01, 2020

This year, it’s more important than ever that you protect yourself and your family from the flu, which can be serious and even deadly. Health care providers like AltaMed and other public health agencies are trying to prevent a twindemic: cases of the flu and COVID-19 spiking at the same time, which could put a strain on hospitals and result in many more people being sick.

We’ve compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help you learn more about why you and your entire family need to get your shots.

I’m Usually Healthy! Do I Need to Get a Vaccine?

All the vitamin supplements in the world won’t protect you from the flu. Why risk four to six days of high fever, sore throat, body aches, and other symptoms that will limit your ability to go to work or attend school? If you do get the flu even after receiving the vaccine, the shot can help you avoid more severe complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, or sinusitis.

It’s also critical for those in regular contact with children under the age of 6 months and those with chronic illness to get vaccinated to reduce the household's risk of illness.

Won’t Getting a Flu Shot Make Me Sick?

Section 1The vaccine does not infect a person with influenza. The vaccine works by helping your body’s immune system recognize the virus so that it can create a defense (antibodies) that will fight the flu.

If I Have a Cold, Can I Still Get a Flu Shot?

A cold can’t stop you from getting your flu shot! However, your primary care provider won’t give you the vaccine if you have a high fever and are experiencing respiratory symptoms. Your immune system won’t be strong enough to create the antibodies it needs to protect you against the flu.

Will the Flu Shot Protect Me from COVID-19?

The flu vaccine won’t protect you against colds, pneumonia, or COVID-19.

The flu is not a severe cold or pneumonia, even though symptoms can be similar – in fact, it can also be hard to tell the difference between COVID-19, allergies, and the flu.

When you ask your health care provider for a flu shot, you will get vaccine the protects you from the influenza virus.

I Saw a Facebook Post that Said that COVID-19 Germs Have Been Added to this Year’s Flu Vaccine. Is that True?

Absolutely not. This year’s flu vaccine contains only the inactivated strains of influenza that are expected to be most prevalent this flu season. It does not have the COVID‐19 virus. Be careful where you get your news about COVID-19 and the flu!

How Soon Should I Get My Flu Shot?

Section 2ASAP! The flu vaccine will not prevent COVID-19, but we are trying to prevent a large flu outbreak while we still don’t have the pandemic fully under control. Also, having the flu could weaken your respiratory system, which could put you at additional risk for COVID-19 – though, we want to be perfectly clear: the flu vaccine will not protect you from COVID-19.

You can make an appointment to get your flu shot at AltaMed. We have many procedures in place to keep staff and patients safe. There are also many other places to get your flu shot.

And here’s some good news: wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and all of the other actions we’ve been taking to stop the spread of COVID_19 will help to keep you safe from the flu.

Is It Possible to Have the Flu and COVID-19 at the Same Time?

section 3Yes, it is. Even though we still don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19, you can get a safe, effective flu shot right now,

What about Side Effects from a Flu Shot?

The most common side effects are soreness around the injection area, redness, nausea, and muscle aches, which usually pass in a couple of days. Children may be scared of getting a shot, but it’s very important for them to receive their immunizations – one pinch and it’s done!

Why Does the Vaccine Change from Year to Year?

The vaccine changes every year because the virus changes every year. This makes it difficult for our body to detect the virus in time, and we end up getting sick. Thanks to technology and the study of viruses, scientists can try to predict what the virus will look like for the upcoming flu season.

Sometimes the virus changes too quickly and the rate of protection can be lower than expected. It has been proven year after year that the vaccine is a great tool to prevent complications and even reduce mortality rates in all age groups.

Get Your Free Shots at AltaMed!

Section 4Get vaccinated today against the virus at your nearest AltaMed medical center to protect yourself and your family. To schedule a flu shot, please call (888) 499-9303. See hours and locations for clinics near you.