Grandparents and grandchildren both look forward to spending time together, often with unparalleled excitement. But as a grandparent, it's essential for you to take care of your health. Otherwise, you might be accidentally risking your grandchildren's safety. In order to protect your grandkids from illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia and whooping cough, the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) recommends all grandparents remember to get your vaccines.
Why do grandparents need routine vaccines?
Sometimes, as a grandparent, you can have an illness that's dangerous to your grandchildren and not even know you have it. This can happen with whooping cough, which isn't as serious for adults but can be deadly in children under age two. While adults may only experience an irritating cough, whooping cough in young children can cause severe breathing difficulties.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that it's essential to get the Tdap vaccine for whooping cough if you're going to be around a baby — especially if your grandchild is an infant younger than 6 months old, who won't be fully protected by childhood vaccinations. If you're planning on spending time with your grandchildren or other babies soon, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss routine vaccinations. You'll need to receive the vaccine two weeks in advance of the visit for it to have time to work.
What is the risk of forgetting to get your vaccines?
"All babies are at increased risk from not only contracting illnesses, but also suffering serious complications from diseases such as whooping cough, pneumonia and the flu," says Dr. Megan Press, an internist with Aspen Medical Group in downtown Denver. "Not all of these vaccines can be given at birth, leaving children vulnerable to illnesses until they reach an appropriate age for safe administration. We encourage all adults who will be in contact with young children, particularly newborns, to be up-to-date on their routine vaccinations. Protecting themselves can help prevent spread of disease to children."
Dr. Press says that flu vaccines are recommended for anyone 18 years of age and older. "Pneumonia vaccines are routinely recommended at age 65," she adds. "A whooping cough booster has been included in the tetanus vaccine (TDAP), which is recommended for everyone 18 years of age and older routinely every 10 years." She explains that Zostavax®, a booster to prevent shingles, is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older. "These can be administered by your primary care physician."
Which Vaccinations Are Important?
Here are some guidelines for essential vaccinations that will keep both you and your grandchildren healthy and safe.
- Flu: The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone 6 months of age or older. This vaccine isn't just important for grandparents and their grandchildren — It's a way for everyone to avoid the fever, chills, cough, congestion, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue that come with the flu. Receiving an annual flu vaccine can also prevent you from spreading the illness to your grandchildren under 6 months, who are unprotected. And don't listen to the myths — A flu shot isn't going to make you sick.
- Shingles: Shingles vaccinations are recommended for individuals 60 years old or older. Shingles is a painful skin rash that can develop in people who have previously had chickenpox. The CDC warns that adults with active shingles can pass the virus to children with skin-to-skin contact, so adults without the shingles vaccines may be risking passing chickenpox on to their grandchildren.
- Pneumonia: The CDC warns that pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children younger than age 5 worldwide. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can cause coughing and difficulty breathing, but it's often preventable through vaccines, such as the pneumococcal vaccine, for parents and grandparents. It's recommended that people who are especially vulnerable to pneumonia get vaccinated — those under the age of 2 and those over the age of 65.
Don't forget, grandparents are role models for teaching young children about preventing the spread of germs. "Grandparents can help teach kids good hygiene habits, such as washing hands with soap and water," says Dr. Press. "The washing of hands after being outside and after using the bathroom is vital!" Antibacterial hand gel or foam is an acceptable alternative. "Encourage children to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing can discourage transmission through the air," adds Dr. Press, "followed, of course, by hand-washing."