Why Adults Need to Catch Up on Immunizations

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We seem to do pretty well at keeping our children’s immunizations for preventable diseases up to date, but we don’t do nearly as good a job at keeping up our own vaccine schedule.

Not Just for Children

Vaccinations are not just for children. They keep you from getting sick—and also protect those around you. Each year, more than 50,000 adults in the United States die from diseases that vaccines could have prevented, according to the American College of Physicians.

In 2012, whooping cough infections set a record (nearly 42,000 cases) for the highest number of cases since 1955. Babies under 3 months were hit especially hard and made up most of the whooping cough-related deaths. How were they infected? Mainly by household members whose childhood vaccinations had worn off.

Ignorance is Dangerous

The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention graded adults’ immunization participation rates as “unacceptably low.” That’s largely because of lack of awareness. Other than the flu vaccine, which gets heavy press coverage every year, you may not be aware you need to protect yourself against diseases like whooping cough, shingles, pneumonia, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, and HPV.

Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, the CDC recently reported modest increases for tetanus and HPV coverage, but little improvement for the other diseases. Meanwhile, immunizations for children under age 3 for diseases like polio and measles is 90 percent or more.

What Vaccines Do You Need?

It depends on your age, overall health, even your occupation and lifestyle. Here’s a summary of the recommendations for adults from the CDC and American College of Physicians.

  • Influenza: Because flu strains change annually, you need a flu shot every year.
  • Pneumococcal infections (pneumonia): You should be vaccinated if you’re age 65 and older or if you’re age 19 to 64 and smoke cigarettes or have a chronic condition.
  • Tetanus-diptheria-pertussis (whooping cough): If you’ve never had a tetanus shot, get the Tdap vaccine, which also protects against whooping cough. Then you need a booster every 10 years. If you’ve had a tetanus shot, get a booster every 10 years.
  • Varicella (chicken pox): Chicken pox is a serious illness in adults, so if you didn’t have the disease as a child, you need to get vaccinated.
  • Shingles (herpes zoster): If you’re 60 years old or older, get the shingles vaccine to prevent this painful belt-like rash, even if you don’t remember having chicken pox as a child.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): To prevent genital warts and cervical cancer, 11-year-old girls and women up to age 26 should be vaccinated. All 11-year-old boys and men up to age 21 should be vaccinated to prevent genital warts and anal cancer.
  • Hepatitis. It’s important to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B if you have multiple sexual partners, travel to countries where the infection rate is high, work in healthcare, or have conditions like HIV, kidney, or liver disease.
  • Measles, mumps, rubella: Adults born before 1957 are considered immune to measles and mumps. Healthy adults born in 1957 or later should have the MMR vaccine unless they have documentation of having received one or more doses, or if blood titers, which measure antibodies, show that they have immunity to each of the three diseases.
  • Meningitis (meningococcal). Adults at risk for this serious disease, including college students living in dormitories, military recruits, and people who have immune system problems, should be vaccinated.

Protect yourself and your family. Talk to your doctor about the vaccines you may be missing—and get your shots up to date.

author name

Vito J. DiCamillo, MD

Vito J. DiCamillo, MD, is the Medical Director for LG Health Urgent Care and Clinical Director of Corporate Partnerships. Dr. DiCamillo’s specialties include emergency medicine and family medicine. He is a graduate of Temple University School of Medicine and the Lancaster General Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program.

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The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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