Vaccinations are a vital part of preventive health maintenance beginning in infancy. Some vaccines that we received as children should be repeated in adulthood, and there are others that are specifically targeted for diseases that adults become susceptible to as they age. Additionally, some adults may not have received certain vaccinations as children and may now be advised by their physician to receive them.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends guidelines for when inoculations should be administered. At the top of their list is an annual influenza vaccine. The Mayo Clinic advises that adults receive a flu shot annually in fall as protection against this potentially serious viral infection. However, there are some adults who, because of their health history, should not receive a flu vaccine. Every year this option should be reviewed with your physician.
In infancy and early childhood, a series of vaccinations are typically administered which include protection for many different diseases. One of the vaccinations that children usually receive is the five-dose DTaP vaccine – diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough.) The DTaP has replaced the older DTP vaccine which was known to cause immunization reactions. This vaccination is also recommended for children older than seven years of age who did not receive their complete five-dose series of DTaP.
For adults, it is commonly known that a tetanus booster is needed every ten years. Maintenance of this tetanus booster is extremely important because it protects against serious infections from common medical incidents such as cuts, puncture wounds and bee stings, to name a few. Most of us do not even realize that along with the tetanus vaccine, we receive the diphtheria vaccine as well. This inoculation is called a Td, and it protects against tetanus and diphtheria. However, with the more widespread outbreaks of pertussis in recent years, the CDC now recommends that protection against pertussis be included, at least once in adulthood. This vaccine is called the Tdap.
The CDC also recommends a single dose of the shingles vaccine for adults over age 60. Shingles occurs in 20% of people who have had chicken pox as a child. When a person contracts shingles, the chicken pox virus which was lying dormant reactivates, often causing severe pain, tingling, and possibly an itchy rash or blisters that resemble chicken pox. Only someone who has had chicken pox or, in rare instances, someone who has received a chicken pox vaccine, can contract shingles. For people with chronic illness, or those who are on immunosuppressant drugs, have severe allergies, or allergies to the components of the shingles vaccine, inoculation is likely not appropriate. Therefore, always discuss thoroughly with your physician before receiving any updated vaccines.
For adults who have never had chicken pox, the CDC does recommend being inoculated. While chicken pox might be uncomfortable and relatively harmless in children, adult chicken pox can pose more dangerous complications such as bacterial infection.
There is a vaccine which helps protect against types of bacteria called pneumococcus. This vaccine protects against illnesses including pneumonia, meningitis, the blood disease bacteremia, and middle ear and sinus infections. All of these are caused by pneumococcus bacteria. It is recommended that adults over age 65 receive the pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine may also be recommended for younger adults who have a compromised immune system.
There are several other vaccines (such as Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B) that the CDC recommends only for adults with certain risks related to their health, job or lifestyle that put them at a higher threat for serious diseases. These risk factors should be discussed with your physician to determine what is appropriate for you.
If you are traveling outside the United States, there may be additional vaccines either required or recommended to safeguard you in your travels. Certain diseases, such as typhoid and yellow fever, are rare in the United States but are prevalent in other countries. Again, it is wise to check with your physician several months before leaving the country.
Many infectious diseases that once were serious health risks for infants, children and adults have decreased significantly or been eradicated in the United States. This is due to strong advocacy, general public education on the importance of maintaining vaccinations, as well as school requirements. Diligence in maintaining personal health records on inoculation history, combined with staying current on the recommended vaccinations helps prevent serious diseases, both for ourselves and the risk of passing on disease to others.