With the development of new vaccines and the rise in popularity of others, Alphas may benefit from getting some of these vaccines in order to protect themselves against certain illnesses. Vaccines, also called immunizations or simply ‘shots’, are usually injections that raise your immunity against specific infections. Most of us received a series of immunizations as children. Currently, children should be immunized against polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, meningococcal infection, measles, mumps, chickenpox, German measles (rubella), hepatitis, and others.

Alphas are at risk for lung and liver disease and a number of infections can increase the risk of such diseases or make an existing disease worse. Therefore, many Alphas are recommended to receive immunizations as adults. Annual flu shots are one such recommendation, as is immunization against common bugs that cause pneumonia.

Pneumonia vaccines

There are currently two pneumonia vaccines available — PCV13 or Prevnar 13 and PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23. While previous guidance stated that all those 65 years and older should receive the Prevnar 13 vaccine regardless of health status, in 2019 the CDC updated its recommendation. Now the vaccine is recommended on the basis of shared clinical decision-making rather than routinely for all adults aged 65 years or older who have never received Prevnar 13. This change applies specifically to those older adults who do not have an immunocompromising condition, cerebrospinal fluid leak, or cochlear implant. Because Prevnar 13 prevents a more current spectrum of bugs that cause pneumonia and meningitis, it is still routinely recommended for older adults with those conditions who have never previously received a dose. The CDC continues to recommend that all those 65 and older routinely receive the Pneumovax 23 vaccine.

If you and your doctor decide that you are a good candidate to receive the Prevnar 13 vaccine, it is recommended that you wait at least 1 year before receiving the Pneumovax 23 vaccine in order to ensure that you receive the maximum benefit from both vaccines.

Shingles vaccine

The shingles vaccine is an injection that builds up your immunity to the Herpes Zoster virus and prevents shingles or, if shingles occurs, minimizes the effects of this infection. This virus causes chickenpox in people who have never been infected with this virus before and can cause shingles (a very painful, blistering skin rash) in people who have had chickenpox in the past (often the distant past). The Herpes Zoster virus lives in the nerves of people who have had chickenpox in the past and, as you get older or develop certain chronic illnesses, can reactivate as shingles.

In 2006, the shingles vaccine Zostavax became available in the United States. Although no longer in use in the US as of November 2020, Zostavax was a live virus vaccine that immunized people against the Herpes Zoster virus. There is now a new shingles vaccine available called Shingrix, which offers strong protection from shingles and long-term nerve pain. In people who have already had an episode of shingles, the vaccine can prevent or minimize recurrence.

Unlike Zostavax, Shingrix is not a live virus vaccine. Two doses of Shingrix (taken 2 to 6 months apart) are recommended for all adults aged 50 years and older, regardless of whether or not they have already received the Zostavax vaccine.

Whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine

Most of us were immunized against whooping cough or pertussis when we were children. We now know that the immunity to the bacteria that causes whooping cough rarely extends to adults. It is recommended that all adults 65 years old and above be revaccinated against pertussis. This is usually done with a Tdap vaccine which covers tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. You only need to receive this vaccination once as an adult. If you have Alpha-1, especially if you have lung disease, your doctor may recommend immunization even if you are younger than age 65. Immunization for adults younger than age 65 is also recommended if you are regularly exposed to infants or young children.

Hepatitis B vaccine

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through infected blood and bodily fluids. It can become a chronic condition and lead to serious, permanent liver damage and even death. In 2017 the first-ever two-dose hepatitis B vaccine called HEPLISAV-B™ was approved for use by the FDA. And in 2018 the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend HEPLISAV-B for those aged 18 and older to prevent hepatitis B infection.

Because having Alpha-1 may exacerbate the liver disease caused by these infections, it is recommended that all Alphas get the hepatitis B vaccine series.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported – from mild symptoms to severe illness. COVID-19 Symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure. They include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

COVID-19 Vaccine options

Currently, there are three COVID-19 Vaccines available in the US: The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a series of two shots while the Janssen vaccine only requires one. Timing for the two-shot series varies by manufacturer.

Who needs a COVID-19 vaccine?

Adults over 18 may receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines. Children over 12 should receive the Pfizer vaccine. This is the only vaccine currently (October 2021) approved for children 12-17. This is likely to change soon as other vaccines are approved for use in children and those younger than 12.

Who needs a booster?

The CDC now recommends that people aged 65 years and older, residents in long-term care settings, and people aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot at least 6 months after completing their primary vaccine series. Other groups may receive a booster shot based on their individual risk and benefit.

All Alphas are encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to help prevent severe illness and hospitalization. Consult your physician to determine whether or not you are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot. To find answers to frequently asked questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/acip-recs/vacc-specific/covid-19.html.

There are a number of other vaccinations recommended for patients with Alpha-1. It is recommended that you consult your doctor to find out if your vaccinations are up to date.