Adult immunizations: Something you never outgrow

Some adults incorrectly assume that the vaccines they received as children will protect them for the rest of their lives. Generally this is true, but there are some exceptions to the rule. First, some adults never were vaccinated as children. Additionally, as times have changed, so has the availability of vaccines - we now have vaccines that weren’t available when some adults were children.

Immunity also can begin to fade over time, and sometimes the need for specific vaccines changes. As we age, we become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections such as flu or pneumococcus.

Overall, a recent Adult Immunization report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that millions of American adults go without routine and recommended vaccinations each year, which leads to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 preventable deaths, thousands of preventable illnesses and $10 billion in preventable health care costs each year.

In addition to low rates of pneumonia immunizations, only 2.1 percent of eligible adults have had the tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough vaccine in the previous two years; only 10 percent of eligible adult women have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine; and only 36.1 percent of all adults were vaccinated against the seasonal flu.

The specific immunizations you need as an adult are determined by factors such as your age, lifestyle, high-risk conditions, type and locations of travel, and previous immunizations. Throughout your adult life, you need immunizations to get and maintain protection against the below:

1. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): In general, anyone who is 6 months or older can benefit from the protection of a flu vaccination.

2. Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (whooping cough): One booster dose for adults up through age 64 and for adults 65 years and older who will have close contact with infants and have not previously received the Tdap vaccine.

3. Shingles: For adults 60 years and older.

4. Pneumococcal Disease: For adults 65 years and older and adults with specific health conditions.

5. Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: For women 26 years and younger.

Some other vaccinations you may need or might want to ask your doctor about include those that protect against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, chickenpox (varicella), and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Each year, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reviews the recommended adult immunization schedule to ensure that the schedule reflects current recommendations for the licensed vaccines. The ACIP approved the 2011 schedule in October of last year, and that schedule is available by visiting It lists the recommended vaccines to have at what age, as well as the number of doses each vaccine includes and at what intervals those doses are administered.

The bottom line to remember during this month’s observance of Adult immunizations Month is to be an example. Remind your family, friends, co-workers and those in the community to get vaccinated - especially yearly for the seasonal influenza. If you are up-to-date on all your vaccinations, you protect yourself and those around you, especially those babies who are too young to receive vaccinations.

Janet Gilson is a registered nurse and the programs and education manager for Blount Memorial Business Health.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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