Did You Know? Adults Need Their Shots, Too!

Barry Atwood getting a flu shot
Are you up to date on your shots?  Oh, you thought those were only for kids. They’re not, and a lot of adults haven’t had the shots they need to keep them from getting and spreading certain diseases.

Vaccine preventable diseases

  • Chicken pox
  • Diphtheria
  • Flu
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Human Papillomavirus
  • Mumps
  • Pneumococcus
  • Rubella
  • Shingles
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping cough

Barriers to adult vaccination

Some people think that whatever vaccines they got as children will protect them forever. In some cases, that’s true. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) says there are exceptions.

  • Some adults were never vaccinated as children
  • Newer vaccines were not available when some adults were children
  • Immunity can begin to fade over time
  • As we age, we become more susceptible to serious diseases caused by common infections (such as flu and pneumococcus)

In a 2012 survey of 607 internists and family physicians in the United States, most agreed that it was the primary care physicians’ responsibility to make sure patients received recommended vaccinations. However, only an average of 30 percent reported that they assessed their patients’ vaccination status at every visit.

Cost and access to vaccines can be barriers. Not all insurance companies, including Medicare, cover all vaccines.

Some people may still believe that infectious diseases are a thing of the past in the industrialized world. Just last December, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, said in a press release that, “In fact, infectious diseases continue to be, and will always be, with us. With patterns of global travel and trade, disease can spread nearly anywhere within 24 hours.”

We’ve certainly learned that lesson with the recent Ebola cases.

Currently, there is no vaccine against Ebola, but there is a schedule of adult immunizations to help protect against other diseases. It gets reviewed every year by ACIP.

2014 recommended shots for adults

Flu (Influenza)

  • Flu vaccine every year.
  • A high-dose influenza vaccine that boosts the immune response may now be given to people over 65. Our immune systems weaken with age and, according to the CDC,“Fluzone High-Dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibodies) contained in regular flu shots. The additional antigen is intended to create a stronger immune response.”

Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (Tdap)

  • Series of three shots if you are between 19 and 64 and have never been vaccinated.
  • If you are pregnant, get Tdap vaccine during 3rd trimester of every pregnancy to help protect infant from whooping cough (pertussis).
  • TD booster shot every 10 years.

Herpes zoster/shingles

  • One shot if you’re 60 or older and were never vaccinated, whether or not you’ve ever had shingles or chickenpox before.
  • You should not get this vaccine if you have a weakened immune system.

Pneumococcal

There are now two different types of pneumococcal vaccine: PCV13 and PPSV23

  • The CDC is recommending both at age 65 and older. They should not be given at the same time.

Meningococcal

  • One or more doses between the ages of 19 and 65+.
  • Check with your health care provider to see if you should have more than one dose.

Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

  • If you were born in 1957 or after and don’t have a record of being vaccinated or of having had measles, mumps or rubella, check with your health care provider about how many doses you may need.
  • One or two doses are generally recommended for anyone born in 1957 or later who was never vaccinated.
  • If you were born before 1957 you’re probably immune.
  • You should not get this vaccine if you have a weakened immune system.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

  • Series of three shots if you’re a female 26 or younger.
  • Series of three shots if you’re a male 21 or younger.
  • Men age 22 to 26 who engage in sex with other men should complete the series if they haven’t already done so.
  • There are two HPV vaccines, but only one (Gardasil) should be given to men.

Chicken pox (varicella)

  • Two shots for anyone 19 and older who has never had chickenpox or was never vaccinated.
  • You should not get this vaccine if you have a weakened immune system.

Hepatitis A

Two doses may be recommended if you have certain risk factors. Discuss with your health care provider.

Hepatitis B

Three doses may be recommended if you have certain risk factors. Discuss with your health care provider.

Hib (Haemophilus influenza type b)

One or three doses may be recommended if you have certain risk factors. Discuss with your health care provider.

More information

The CDC has an easy to read adult vaccine schedule on its website. Some of the vaccines are recommended only if you never had one before. If you’re like most people, you can’t remember when you had your last tetanus booster, so how could you be expected to know if you got all the recommended series of shots as a child?

If you’re lucky, your devoted mother kept all your shot records just like she kept all your school pictures. If not, in some cases a blood test can tell if you’ve been vaccinated or have immunity to the disease in question.

Thinking about having a baby? If so, rubella is one of those diseases you want to know about – before you get pregnant. A rubella infection during pregnancy can lead to serious developmental abnormalities and even death for your baby. A blood test can tell if you’re immune. If you aren’t, it’s recommended that you be vaccinated (MMR) before you conceive.

Want to know more? The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has a web site devoted to the History of Vaccines.

I’m passing along all this information because while I knew there were new vaccines for adults, I had no idea an adult schedule even existed. Honestly, I had trouble keeping up with my kids’ shot schedules —  how could I ever keep tabs on mine? Surely I’m not alone.

Check out the Catching Health Calendar to find health events in Maine and make sure to submit your own health event.