Vaccines have risen in importance and public awareness over the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic. Recent studies show that vaccines prevented 19.8 million deaths from COVID-19 in the first year. The ever-evolving sub-variants of omicron have lost the effectiveness of the vaccine against the infection, but the main goal of the original vaccine recipe is to prevent severe illness and hospitalization.
We are also facing the rapid global spread of the monkeypox virus. The CDC has reported more than 5,000 infections in the US, the most of any country in the world. The window to eliminate this virus from the US is closing fast. If we do not act soon, monkeypox may become another endemic virus in this country.
The CDC estimates that approximately 1.6 million gay and bisexual men in the U.S. are at high risk of contracting monkeypox (although anyone can get it) and are eligible for vaccination. But despite the current shipment of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine, that still leaves about 1 million people vulnerable until the next round of doses arrives in October.
Given the new paradigm of many infectious diseases, it is increasingly important for all Americans to better monitor vaccine records and keep them up-to-date with CDC recommendations. The focus on vaccinations as an important part of our health history has led to a renewed interest in ensuring that we are on track for other important vaccines.
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Start here: Get your child’s immunization records
The first step is to get a baseline immunology report to see what standard childhood vaccines you have had (or haven’t).
Ask your parents or guardians if they have copies of childhood vaccines. These include standard vaccinations such as MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis).
You can also check your immunization records with your primary care doctor (or your pediatrician’s office if possible). Many primary care physician offices, especially those affiliated with a larger network or academic medical center, now include an electronic medical record that provides easy access to your health information. In many cases, I find that patients don’t even know that they already have this option set up for them.
If necessary, donate blood for testing
If none of the above options work, you can ask your primary care doctor to test your antibodies through a blood test.
For some diseases, the simple presence of circulating antibodies is significant. For others, a quantitative level is needed to protect against infection. Your primary care physician can facilitate this process.
Be aware of vaccines
Based on this serology, your primary care physician can update you with an update, for example, if you have recommended childhood vaccines.
The CDC publishes an easy-to-read app that you can download to your smartphone or tablet that shows the recommended schedules for vaccines for children, adolescents, and adults recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The guidelines include special circumstances, such as pregnancy, where some vaccinations are recommended while others are not.
Organize with healthcare technology
Many smart phone apps can check and save your COVID-19 vaccine. This is especially useful for international travel to countries that require proof of vaccination, or for attending events when you don’t want to carry your paper card.
I prefer the Health app on the iPhone or the Google version on Android devices, which allows you to link your electronic health record and stores your updated vaccine information in the “immunizations” tab. While you can’t add specific vaccine categories to the app itself, you can tell your primary care doctor (outside of his office) which vaccines you recently received and update your electronic health record or add them to yours. This information then flows into your Health app.
For those without a primary care physician, register with one. Most insurance plans have a website on the back of the card where you can search for a doctor by phone number or zip code. Not only is it important to follow up with your primary care doctor to get vaccinated, but they can also help you get the recommended screening tests for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer, as well as control your blood pressure and cholesterol.
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Endorsed by Michael Dainno, MD, an ER physician in Los Angeles. He studied Global Health at Georgetown University and holds a medical degree from Ben-Gurion University. He completed his residency in emergency medicine at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. He is also a former United States Peace Corps volunteer. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault