A shot of good health
Adults need vaccinations too
THINK IMMUNIZATIONS ARE just for kids? You could be missing out on important protections against illnesses and infections. Rolling up your sleeve for a shot could also save your life: Approximately 50,000 adults die in the United States every year from vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Despite the benefits of vaccinations, adults are under-immunized. There is a lack of awareness about the need for adults to be vaccinated and which vaccines are required.
There are also misconceptions about how immunizations work. Vaccines are made from small amounts of bacteria or viruses that mimic the disease, causing your immune system to build up antibodies to fight the illness if you’re infected. While some vaccinations, such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, offer lifetime protection, others, including the influenza vaccine, need to be repeated. In other words, it’s a mistake to think the vaccines you got in childhood are still protecting you.
The types of vaccines you need depend on a number of considerations, including your immunization history, age and risk factors. In general, there are three categories of vaccines to consider.
Even if you received vaccines for MMR, tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis, meningococcal disease and pneumococcal disease as a child, it might be time for a booster shot to re-up your protection. There is also a chance that an important childhood immunization such as chicken pox was missed, increasing your risk of contracting a vaccine-preventable illness. If you’ve lost your immunization records and are unsure about whether you were vaccinated as a child, there is no harm in getting revaccinated as an adult.
There is a good chance that new vaccines have been developed and vaccine recommendations have changed since your last round of immunizations. For example, most adults have never received the hepatitis B vaccine because it wasn’t part of the immunization schedule until 1991. The zoster vaccine to protect against shingles has been available for only the last five years. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out which new (or newly recommended) vaccines might be right for you.
Up-to-date immunizations are especially important as you get older because your immune system weakens, making you more susceptible to contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. The zoster vaccine is recommended for all adults over 50; a booster of the MMR vaccine is also suggested for this age group. Adults over the age of 65 also need additional pneumococcal immunization to protect against bacterial pneumonia.
Vaccinations are an important part of preventive healthcare for all adults but are especially important if you’re in a high-risk group. International travelers and healthcare workers are more apt to come in contact with vaccine-preventable diseases, increasing their risk of infection. Those with compromised immune systems, including diabetics and smokers, are in danger of suffering from infection related complications.
No matter what your health history, up-to-date immunizations are essential. There is no reason to risk illness, possible hospitalization and sometimes death when there are effective vaccines available.