Adults Need Shots Too

The beginning of the school year is the time to make sure that children’s vaccinations are up-to-date. However, there are also several important vaccinations that adults need to be aware of. Adults might need booster shots for tetanus and other infectious diseases because immunity from early childhood vaccinations has faded. New vaccines introduced during the past decade can protect you from painful and debilitating illnesses.

Many colleges require incoming freshmen to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease (meningitis) because it can spread easily in a crowded dormitory environment. A child who was vaccinated against meningitis as a pre-teen will need a booster dose because protection wanes in adolescents within five years.

Whooping cough (pertussis) has been on the rise in recent years, perhaps because immunity from vaccines people received in early childhood is wearing off.  A single dose of Tdap, a new vaccine introduced in 2005, is recommended for everyone between the ages of 11 and 64 to protect against whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus. Another vaccine, called Td, which protects against tetanus and diphtheria, is recommended every 10 years.

CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Physicians recommend Zostavax, a zoster vaccine licensed in 2006, for all adults over 60 to protect against shingles. Shingles is a painful, blistering skin condition associated with the chickenpox virus, and occurs more frequently as adults’ immune systems weaken with age. Zoster vaccine reduces the incidence of shingles by 50 percent.

If you are a smoker, you should consider vaccination with Pneumovax® to protect you against pneumonia. Every year, an estimated 175,000 people are hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia. Pneumovax® is recommended for all adults over 65, and for anyone with a tendency for respiratory disease.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Approximately 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all girls receive 3 doses of this vaccine when they are 11 or 12, while they are still too young to have been exposed to the virus.

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus (HBV) and is spread through contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. About 12.5 million people in the U.S. have been infected with hepatitis B virus at some time during their lives, and 1.25 million of these have a chronic infection, which often leads to liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Every year, 3,000 to 5,000 people in the U.S. die from liver disease related to hepatitis B. A vaccine for hepatitis B was first introduced in 1981. Since 1991, when routine hepatitis B vaccination of U.S. children began, the reported incidence of acute hepatitis B among children and adolescents has dropped by more than 95 percent, and by 75 percent in all age groups. A series of three or four shots provides long-term protection. All adults who are at risk of being exposed to hepatitis B should be vaccinated.  

Annual flu shots are recommended for anyone older than 6 months, but especially for people over 65, children younger than 5, people who have weakened immune systems, and their caregivers and family members.

If you are traveling to countries where particular diseases, such as cholera or yellow fever, are widespread, protect yourself by getting vaccinations before you go. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information on its website about vaccines for travel.

Talk to your doctor or public health clinic about getting the vaccinations you need.  

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