Vaccines for adults: Which ones do I need?
Dr. Ellis Talbert
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:04AM
If you think vaccines — except for the seasonal flu shot and tetanus booster — are just for children, you have plenty of company. Perhaps you, like many adults, grew up in an era where measles and chicken pox were a childhood rite of passage. Vaccination schedules were generally completed, except for an occasional booster, by kindergarten.
Today, with so many new vaccines available to protect adults from a wide variety of conditions, it makes sense to take full advantage of that protection. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control, tens of thousands of adults die each year from influenza, pneumococcal disease and tetanus, which can all be prevented with vaccinations.
Of course, every vaccine is not recommended for every adult. Discuss with your primary care physician which vaccinations are right for you. The answer will depend on which ones you are missing and what childhood diseases you might have contracted.
Keep in mind that some childhood diseases, such as chicken pox, can actually be fatal when caught in adulthood. Not sure if you really had the measles? Your doctor can check your titers and see if you’re actually immune.
For instance, we used to think people had lifelong immunity to whooping cough, but we’re seeing more frequent outbreaks, so we now know that isn’t the case.
Below is a listing of adult vaccines and general recommendations on who should get them. Discuss any previous adverse reactions with your doctor before the administration of any vaccinations.
Seasonal flu: All adults
Pneumococcal disease: Smokers, individuals age 65 or older or who live in a long-term care facility and those with chronic illnesses (asthma, emphysema, diabetes or heart disease) or weakened immune systems
Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis: All adults, whether they have recently received a tetanus or diphtheria-toxoid containing vaccine
Meningitis: If you’re living in a dormitory for the first time and you did not have the vaccine as a child or adolescent; if you’ve joined the military; if your spleen is removed; if meningitis breaks out in your community
Chicken pox: You’ve never had chicken pox and you didn’t have the vaccine as a child or adolescent
Measles, mumps and rubella: Adults born in 1957 or later who did not contract the diseases or receive the vaccine
Human Papillomavirus: If you’re a woman or man age 26 or younger
Hepatitis A: Recommended for health-care workers and those adults with clotting problems or liver disease
Hepatitis B: If you’re a health or safety worker; if you live with someone infected with Hepatitis B or if you’re age 59 or younger and have either Type I or Type II diabetes
Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Adults age 50 and over
Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib): If you’ve had your spleen removed or if you have sickle cell anemia, leukemia or HIV
Unfortunately, hesitation and false information often accompany advances in vaccinations. The most renowned is the autism scare surrounding the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, despite the fact that the Lancet medical journal in 2010 retracted Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 landmark research paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Despite the retraction, many people still believe the vaccine causes autism. For the most reliable vaccination information, visit trusted websites such as Web MD or Mayo Clinic.
No vaccination, however, is perfect or without risk, One must balance the risk of a few side effects from a vaccination to the very real danger of thousands dying from horrible diseases. Vaccines definitely save lives; there’s no doubt about this. I have never seen a case of measles, mumps, German measles or tetanus. In the 1940s, polio was common, but no longer. In many Third World countries, people lose their lives to diseases we no longer see.
What side effects might an adult experience following a vaccination? The same that can occur in children: soreness, fever and pain at injection site (vaccinations are generally given in the arm for adults, as opposed to the leg for children). Individuals who have certain allergies or who have experienced serious reactions following a vaccination should inform their doctors before receiving additional vaccinations. Moreover, people undergoing chemotherapy treatments should not receive a vaccination containing a live virus. However, they should definitely be immunized so they’re better protected against these illnesses.
About 5 percent of the population receiving a particular vaccine fail to develop the immunity, but if we can prevent everyone else from getting sick, those people won’t become ill because the disease won’t be in the community. This is known as “herd immunity.”
In conclusion, vaccines are safe and effective means to prevent disease and maintain good health. If you’re not current, call your doctor today. Protection is just an appointment away.
Dr. Ellis Talbert is a family medical practitioner who admits patients to Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital.