To keep their health, most people focus primarily on diet and exercise. However, there are additional factors that are very important. Getting recommended vaccines and immunizations is one of them. Health organizations, doctors, and scientists agree that vaccines are safe and effective. If you have concerns, the anti-vaccination movement myths are debunked here.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides a somewhat scary looking vaccination scheduling chart for adults and a chart for children and adolescents. The CDC also provides an online questionnaire to determine what immunizations to give to adolescents. Below, we provide a quick summary of each modern vaccine for adults and why they are important. Flu is listed first since it is late October, the start of flu season. Shingles is listed second because most older people are at high risk and unaware it is preventable. The rest are in alphabetical order. Don’t be afraid to discuss these with your primary healthcare provider.
Flu (All Adults Annually)
The Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services both recommend that adults get annual flu shots in October since flu season begins in November.
In 2018, the flu vaccine was 29% effective and merely 12% effective for people over 65. However, research shows that being vaccinated reduces the risk of serious illness if you do get the flu.
Shingles (Adults 50 and Up)
Without a vaccine, approximately one-third of older US adults will get shingles, a nasty disease causing acute pain which can last for months or even years. In severe cases, it causes painful neurological damage and vision loss. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. That means 95 percent of adults are at risk.
Adults 50 and over can receive the Shingrix vaccine, approved by the FDA in 2017. Studies suggest Shingrix offers protection against shingles beyond five years. It is given in two doses, with two to six months between doses.
DTAP and TDAP — Tetanus, Diphtheria & Acellular Pertussis (Everyone, Every 10 Years)
The CDC recommends diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccinations across the lifespan. Children younger than seven years of age receive DTaP or DT, while older children and adults receive the ten year booster shot called Tdap or Td.
Tetanus is a serious illness caused by Clostridium bacteria found in soil, saliva, dust, and manure. The bacteria can enter the body through a deep cut, like those you might get from stepping on a nail, or through a burn. The infection causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body.
Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death.
According to the CDC, about 80% of older adults have not received a Tdap for protection against whooping cough (pertussis), a highly serious bacterial infection which damages the lungs and requires antibiotics. The Tdap booster vaccine is about 70% effective in the first year, then about 30-40% effective after four years.
Hepatitis A and B (Everyone)
Hepatitis is a dangerous inflammation of the liver usually caused by a virus. The type of hepatitis is named for the virus that causes it; for example, hepatitis A, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
For adults, the hepatitis A and B vaccine is administered either as three doses over a period of six months, or three shots administered over one month with the addition of a booster shot after one year. It is usually prescribed for adults when there are additional risk factors of contracting hepatitis such as interactions with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. Young children now routinely receive this vaccine from their doctors.
Hepatitis C vaccines are under development.
Hib — Haemophilus Influenza Type B (Young Children)
Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, Hib was a leading cause of childhood meningitis, pneumonia, and epiglottitis, causing an estimated 20,000 cases a year in the United States in the early 1980s, mostly in children under 5 years old. Since routine vaccination of children began, the incidence of Hib disease has declined by greater than 99%, effectively eliminating Hib as a public health problem where the vaccine is provided.
HPV — Human Papillomavirus (Everyone)
Available vaccines protect against either two, four, or nine types of the sexually transmitted disease HPV. All vaccines protect against at least HPV types 16 and 18, which cause the greatest risk of cervical cancer.
Meningitis / Meningococcal (Everyone Especially Youth)
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease can become life threatening quickly, and teens are at higher risk of getting it. Often vaccinations are now required for summer camps and first year college students.
1,000-2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year. 10 to 15% of those who get sick with the disease will die, even with antibiotic treatment. As many as 20% will have permanent side effects, such as hearing loss or brain damage.
There are a variety of meningococcal vaccines given at different ages. Booster shots are available every five years.
In the U.S., three meningococcal vaccines are available:
- Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4), sold as Menomune
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), sold as Menactra, MenHibrix, and Menveo.
- Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, sold as Trumenba and Bexsero
MPSV4 and MCV4 prevent four types of meningococcal disease which make up 70% of cases in the United States. Serogroup B protects against one more strain.
MMR — Measles, Mumps and Rubella (Everyone)
The MMR vaccine provides immunity against measles, mumps and rubella. Most people have been vaccinated, however those who received a “non-live” vaccination between 1963 and 1967 should get re-vaccinated.
Pneumonia (Adults 65 and Up)
Pneumonia kills one in twenty older adults who get it. According to the CDC, Pneumovax is 50-85% effective at preventing serious disease from pneumococcal bacteria which cause pneumonia and other serious illnesses like meningitis. Although the CDC removed it from the list of shots all older adults should routinely get, Prevnar 13 should also be considered in discussion with your primary care provider.
In October 2019, Glaxo-Smith Klein received positive results for a new TB vaccine which is 50% overall effective. Even 50% efficacy will save millions of lives. The current vaccine was created in 1921! It has taken 98 years to find something better. The current vaccine called BCG, is ineffective in combating virulently drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis that have popped up around the globe.
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. If you don’t have insurance, or if it does not cover vaccines, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program may be able to help. This program provides vaccines at no cost to doctors who serve eligible children. Children younger than 19 are eligible for VFC vaccines if they are Medicaid-eligible, American Indian or Alaska Native or have no health insurance.
You can get most vaccines at your local pharmacy (Walgreens, CVS, etc.) or hospital walk-in clinics. Check with your care provider to make sure you don’t have an allergy to any vaccine component.
With the much deeper understanding of science and how the human body works, there are now hundreds of companies working on new and better vaccines. The rate of disease incidence will likely continue to drop significantly including a potential cure for the common cold. Here’s a bit more from one of the researchers, Stanford virologist Jan Carette.
Thank you for reading. As usual, at the end of our articles, we provide you with a recommendation to reward yourself. Here’s a t-shirt you might like, but probably won’t order.
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