You're never too old to take a shot

I am about to take a shot at the topic of adult immunizations. Actually I already did. I assured I had a shingles vaccination years ago and I stopped at my local pharmacy for a flu shot this week. I intend to go back for the pneumonia vaccine tomorrow.

Wait — I just realized I don't need to do that because the pneumococcal immunization was part of my annual physical last year. I'd just turned 65, so it was strongly recommended. When offered, I did not hesitate a second before extending my arm. I have heart-wrenching recollections of older adults I've known and loved in life-threatening circumstances because their already compromised health situations were further complicated by a diagnosis of pneumonia. Read a few weeks of newspaper obituaries, and if the cause of death is identified at all, (why don't they do that more often?) it is frequently "pneumonia."

But there's more. In a few months — because my daughter is expecting a baby — I will assuredly update my tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis immunization record. Did you know that one of the primary reasons babies get the dreaded whooping cough is because grandparents and even sometimes the baby's caring parents do not have immunization protection — and the vulnerable little one is exposed.

If you have ever been around an infant or small child with whooping cough and heard that desperate rasping, whooping, hacking sound, you assuredly understand this issue.

More often of late, I'm hearing about doctors banning infant contact from family members who do not have an appropriate whooping cough immunization. That ban, by the way, can extend for up to one year of the babe's little life. If there was ever a reason to get immunized, especially if you're an expectant grandparent, that's one of the best.

I think the time has finally come when we will more readily embrace simple preventative measures, easy-to-get low- or no-cost vaccinations that are life-protecting and have the potential to reduce the overall cost of health care.

I've heard it said, of course. "My dad got a flu shot last year and he got really sick from it." Or "I never get shots of any kind — and I'm healthy as a horse." Pshaw. I just do not buy those arguments any longer. If you have made them in times past, at least reflect a little before you make them again this year. If you have questions about any of this, ask your health provider or contact the Centers for Disease Control ( or 1-800-CDC-INFO).

With flu shots you need one dose every fall or winter for your protection and the protection of others around you. The pharmacist who gave me mine said it applies to everyone age six months and older but was especially important for older adults. (Exclusions may include people with life-threatening allergies, including a severe allergy to eggs.) Like every health-related decision, make an informed choice.

You are never too old to do this — it is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stay healthy and age well. Please give it a shot. This is important.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor in public health and human sciences. You can reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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