Which Vaccinations Do I Really Need?

Doctors’ Notes

Real stories by real family physicians

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a priority, but it’s still important to get all of the vaccinations your family doctor recommends.

by Dr. Amra Resic

About the Author
Dr. Amra Resic
Amra Resic, MD, FAAFP, is a family doctor who cares for pediatric and adult patients at BayCare Medical Group in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. In addition to family medicine, she specializes in preventive medicine and vaccine science, and she leads BayCare’s vaccine subcommittee, which makes recommendations on immunization practices for the organization. Dr. Resic completed the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Vaccine Science Fellowship in 2017 and currently serves on an AAFP technical expert panel focused on improving adult immunization rates among racial and ethnic minority populations.
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I like to talk through the benefits and potential risks of vaccines with my patients. These conversations help them feel more confident about getting recommended vaccinations. And this isn’t just true for the COVID-19 vaccine. I also help my patients understand the importance of other vaccines for adults and children.

For example, one of my older adult patients had a number of questions about vaccines during her annual wellness visit. I’ve been Ms. Sharon’s (not her real name) family doctor for several years. She trusts the medical information and advice I give her. I began by answering her questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Then, Ms. Sharon wanted to know if she still needs to get other vaccinations, such as those that prevent the flu and pneumonia. She also wondered if certain vaccines were more important to get than others.

I explained that the top priority right now is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But COVID-19 is not the only illness that threatens a person’s health. It’s still very important to get all of the vaccinations your family doctor recommends. Since Ms. Sharon is over 65 years of age, I recommended that she should get the pneumococcal vaccine. It protects against pneumonia. Also, I urge all of my patients to get a flu shot every year during flu season.

I told Ms. Sharon, “Imagine having COVID-19 and the flu or COVID-19 and pneumonia. Having both at the same time could make you severely ill. You might even end up in the hospital. But if you’re fully vaccinated against all of these illnesses, it helps decrease your risk of getting really sick.” She said this made sense to her.

Together, Ms. Sharon and I made a plan for her to get the COVID-19 vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine. Since flu season was almost over and she was being careful to avoid exposure to germs, she could wait until the fall to get her flu shot. Ms. Sharon felt comfortable with this vaccination plan. She was happy that we had talked through her questions and thought about her health care needs.

During another visit, my patient Jeanette (not her real name) asked me if her 11-year-old daughter really needs to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine since it’s not mandatory for school. I explained how this vaccine protects against diseases caused by HPV, including cervical and esophageal (throat) cancer. This was something she didn’t know. I also shared that my own daughters will be getting the vaccine as soon as they’re old enough. That’s how important I think the HPV vaccine is and how strongly I believe in it. I told Jeanette, “It’s a safe, effective vaccine that can reduce your daughter’s risk of certain cancers to give her a healthier future.” She agreed that this was important and scheduled an appointment for her daughter to be vaccinated.

These conversations with my patients take some time, but they’re worth it. I’m glad to listen to their concerns about vaccines and answer their questions. It shows my patients I believe vaccines are very important. They protect people and communities from preventable illnesses. Also, having a strong, personal recommendation from their family doctor helps my patients decide to get needed vaccinations.

QUICK TIP

Have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine? Talk to your family doctor! Many of my patients have asked me what I think about it. I explain why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect themselves and their loved ones. It prevents people from getting severely ill. It is even decreasing death rates in our community. I’m also eager to tell my patients about my personal experience getting this vaccine. And I let them know that the side effects are almost always mild and only last a day or two.