August 2017
In This Issue
Vaccinations at Every Age

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Dear Friends,

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, so in this issue we will discuss the importance of vaccinations throughout a lifetime and provide you with resources to ensure you stay up-to-date with your immunizations! In addition, we will also explore how biological sex differences impact our immune system.  

Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD 
Director of Science Outreach and Education 
Vaccinations at Every Age 
It’s no surprise that National Immunization Awareness Month coincides with the beginning of the school year but, it’s important to keep in mind that timely vaccination is not just for children. As we age, our immune system faces different challenges both in the types of diseases we encounter and how our body fights to protect against them. In addition, women may need additional immunizations at certain points in their life, especially if they become pregnant. Below we will take a closer look at some of the recommended vaccinations by age group: 
College-Aged & Young Adults 
While most vaccinations are given during the childhood and teenage years, the CDC recommends the following vaccinations for young adults:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine – This vaccine helps protect against bacterial meningitis, a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord. While the likelihood of contracting meningitis is rare, there are occasionally outbreaks in dorm-like environments. Thus, it is recommended that students get vaccinated before heading off to their first year of college.   

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine – This vaccine prevents infection by several strains of the sexually transmitted disease HPV, which are known to increase the risk for cervical, oral, and certain other types of cancers. This vaccination is recommended for both young men and women, under the age of 26, who did not receive the vaccine as a child or teen. 

As an adult, you may have already received a wide variety of vaccinations as a child and teen, and as you age your vaccine requirements will be personalized based on your immunization and medical history. The CDC suggests the following for adults between the ages of 19-60, who have not been previously vaccinated or infected with the following:

  • Influenza vaccine – The influenza or flu vaccine helps to protect against infection wstrains of the influenza virus. Unlike most other vaccines, the flu vaccine is administered yearly. Prior to each flu season, the vaccine is reformulated to protect against 3 or 4 strains most likely to cause illness that year. The flu vaccine is typically available in the fall and can be administered at any point throughout flu season.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (TDaP) vaccination – The TDaP vaccine actually protects against 3 different diseases: Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Adults who have not received the TDaP vaccine should get one as soon as possible to protect themselves. For those who have received the TDaP vaccine, it is recommended to obtain a booster vaccination every 10 years.
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination – The MMR vaccine also protects against 3 different diseases: Measles, mumps, and rubella. This vaccine is recommended for adults who have not had the MMR vaccine, or an up-to-date blood test that which shows immunity to the measles or mumps.
  • Varicella vaccination – The varicella vaccination provides protection against the varicella zoster virus, more frequently known as chickenpox. This vaccine is recommended for adults who have never had the chickenpox, a varicella vaccination, or an up-to-date blood test to show they are immune to the chickenpox. 

Pregnant Women 

The CDC recommends that pregnant women obtain the following vaccinations:

  • Influenza vaccine – Infection with the flu can cause serious problems and complications for pregnant women compared to other adults. So, it is recommended that pregnant women receive the inactivated form of the influenza vaccine at the start of flu season. It is safe for pregnant women to get the influenza vaccine in any trimester. 

  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (TDaP) vaccination – Pregnant women should obtain the TDaP vaccination during each pregnancy within the 3rd trimester, preferably within 27 and 36 weeks. The maternal TDaP vaccination helps prevent pertussis, or whooping cough, in young infants before they can get vaccinated themselves. 

Our immune system begins to weaken with age. So, for adults 60-65 years and older, several additional vaccines are recommended by the CDC:

  • Herpes zoster vaccination – This vaccine protects against shingles, a painful skin rash caused by infection with the varicella zoster virus – the same virus which causes the chickenpox. The varicella zoster virus can remain dormant in our bodies many years after an early-childhood chickenpox infection. Adults over the age of 60 should get the herpes zoster vaccination regardless of if they remember having the chickenpox or not.

  • Pneumococcal vaccination – Adults over the age of 65 should receive a series of two vaccinations which help protect against pneumonia and other bacterial diseases such as bacteremia and meningitis. Pneumonia can have devastating health consequences for older adults and vaccination is the number one way to prevent infection.

Research Spotlight: Sex Differences in Immune Response  
The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Yet, did you know that men and women’s immune systems respond to infections differently? Women typically mount a stronger defense against infection compared to men, although this can fluctuate based on age and reproductive status [2]. Women also respond differently to vaccinations, as they produce greater amounts of antibodies which help in the detection of foreign or infectious agents [2].

However, the protective benefits of having an enhanced immune response may come at a cost. Women are 3 times more likely to develop an autoimmune disease compared to men [3]. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies the body as foreign, and attempts to attack or destroy certain components.

Much more research is needed to explore the sex-differences found in immune response. A 2011 study found that less than 10% of published immunology studies analyze data by sex [4].

If you are interested in learning more about how sex influences the immune system, save the date for the 2nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research, which will be held on January 25th, 2018. This year's theme is A Focus on Autoimmunity, and will feature lectures from national experts in sex-based immunology!  
1. Center for Disease Control 
2. Klein & Flanagan, Nat Rev Immunol. 2016; 16:626–638.
3. Jacobson et al., Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1997; 84(3): 223-43.
4. Beery & Zucker. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011; 35:565–572.
Institute Happenings
Revolutionizing the Rules of Research
"When we look back 10 years from now, we’ll have a whole range of achievements that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for sex inclusion."

Learn how  sex -inclusive research drives new discovery and improves the health and well-being of all people from WHRI Director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff. 

Upcoming Events 

Summer Break 
 Please note there is no Women's Health Research Forum in the month of August.

The Forums will resume on Tuesday, September 19th with a presentation by Dr. Patricia Vassallo. Keep an eye out for the September newsletter or visit our website for details on how to register!

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