Immunizations are not just for kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, immunizations rank among the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century; however, adult immunizations have not reached the level of success of childhood immunizations. This fact—according to Consumer Reports on Health—results in approximately 50,000 men and women in the U.S. dying from vaccine-preventable diseases each year.
In an earlier study published in The American Journal of Medicine, research shows that the primary reasons why many adults do not get vaccinated when older include:
- Lack of physician recommendations;
- Mistaken assumptions that healthy people do not need vaccinations;
- Fear of needles;
- Lack of insurance coverage;
- Lack of an effective reminder system to alert patients who need a vaccination.
The following is a summary of a special report titled “Adult vaccines: Are you up to date?” by the editors of Consumer Reports on Health about what adult vaccines you need today to stay not only healthy—but alive.
Adult Vaccine #1: Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is an acute viral liver disease typically spread by the fecal-oral route. According to the special report, adults needing a Hepatitis A vaccine include:
- Any adult seeking protection against Hepatitis A.
- Adults at high risk including homosexual men, adults with liver disease or blood clotting disorders and travelers going abroad excluding travel to Australia, Canada, Western Europe, Japan and New Zealand.
Vaccinations consist of two shots at least six months apart. The Hepatitis A vaccine has an efficacy of 94% to 100%.
Adult Vaccine #2: Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a viral disease spread by exposure to blood and body fluids as well as sexual contact and prenatal exposure. The seriousness of the infection is that it can result in liver failure, cirrhosis, cancer and death.
According to the special report, adults needing a Hepatitis B vaccine include:
- Any adult seeking protection against Hepatitis B;
- Sexually active adults not in a stable, monogamous relationship;
- Homosexual men;
- Adults with diabetes who have risk factors including kidney disease, predialysis, hemodialysis and home dialysis;
- Health care workers;
- Individuals with a sexually transmitted disease.
Vaccination involves 3 shots over six months with 2 doses separated by no less than 4 weeks, and the third dose 4 to 6 months after the 2nd dose. The vaccination is 80% to 100% effective in those who receive all 3 doses.
Adult Vaccine #3: Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. with approximately 6.2 million new infections each year. Human papillomavirus can result in cervical, genital, oral and pharyngeal cancer.
According to the special report, adults needing a HPV vaccine include:
- Women ages 19 to 26;
- Men ages 19-21 and those 22 to 26 who may have a compromised immune system.
Vaccination involves 3 shots with the 2nd and 3rd shot given 2 and 6 months respectively after the first shot. The vaccination is up to 97% effective against HPV-related cancers.
Adult Vaccine #4: Influenza
Each year approximately 36,000 people die from the flu, many of which would survive but for lack of one shot taken in the fall before the cold and flu season arrives.
According to the special report, adults needing a flu vaccine include:
- All adults, especially the elderly and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or kidney disease, women who may become or are pregnant, and caregivers of children and adults in ill health.
Vaccination involves one dose annually in October or November before the flu season begins. The vaccination is 70% to 90% effective in healthy individuals below 65 years old, but reportedly only about 40% effective among older, frail adults.
Adult Vaccine #5: Pneumococcal
Pneumococcal bacterial infections that can lead to pneumonia and meningitis can be lessened significantly with a vaccination.
According to the special report, adults needing a pneumococcal vaccine include:
- Adults 65 and older;
- Adults 19 to 64 who have risk factors that include heart, lung, or liver disease, diabetes, cochlear implants, compromised immune systems, asthma, a history of smoking, or are undergoing chemotherapy.
Vaccination involves one dose for the majority of people, and a booster for certain high-risk individuals 5 years following the initial shot. The vaccination is 60% to 70% effective.
Adult Vaccine #6: Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (Tdap)
The common misconception is that once you’ve had these shots as a kid, that you do not need them again. “Not true” say many health experts who have seen a recent rise in the number of cases of whooping cough in adults.
According to the special report, adults needing a Tdap vaccine include:
- Adults younger than 65 regardless of when they had their last tetanus/diphtheria booster;
- Adults 65 and older who come in contact with infants.
Vaccination involves one shot of the Tdap vaccine and a tetanus/diphtheria booster every 10 years. The vaccine has an efficacy of nearly 100% for tetanus and diphtheria, but only about 55% to 65% protection against whooping cough.
Adult Vaccine #7: Varicella/Shingles
The varicella zoster virus can get us when we are young and when we are old. The viral cause of chicken pox, the varicella zoster virus can go dormant and resurface years later in another form as painful shingles.
According to the special report, adults needing a Varicella/Shingles vaccine include:
- Adults who have never had chicken pox or a vaccination against chicken pox;
- Adults 60 or older regardless of their history.
Vaccination involves two shots separated by at least 4 weeks with an additional shot specific for shingles prevention. The vaccination’s efficacy toward varicella is 70% to 90%.
Consumer Reports on Health advises consumers to take an active role toward ensuring that your adult vaccinations are up to date by encouraging you to talk to your doctor and discuss your concerns and risks of contracting what can be an easily preventable disease with the correct vaccine.