Quick—do you know if you’re up to date on your vaccines? Or, do you think of vaccines as just kids’ stuff? Apparently lots of folks do, given that way too few adults receive the recommended vaccines. That puts them—and those who come into contact with them—at greater risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.
• In 2012, there were 42,000 cases of whooping cough (pertussis)—the highest number in a single year since 1955. Nearly a quarter of these cases were in adults. Most of the babies who died from the disease, in fact, picked it up from an adult in the home.
• In 2011, most of the 4,000 people who died from pneumococcal pneumonia were older than 50. The highest rate of death was in those older than 65, yet only two-thirds of this age group receive the vaccine.
• Only about one-third of U.S. adults at high risk for hepatitis B have received the vaccine. Fewer still have received a vaccine for hepatitis A.
If you’re someone who’s afraid of vaccines, you need to know this: You can’t get a disease from the vaccine. They won’t cause you harm. Instead, the more people who receive vaccinations, the fewer germs are around you. Vaccines virtually wiped smallpox and polio off the face of the map.
How does this all work? Vaccines ally with your body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity. But first a reminder about immunity: When germs invade your body, they attack and multiply, causing an infection. Your immune system works bravely to fight it off. This leaves your body with a supply of cells that now recognize this invader, providing immunity.2
Vaccines imitate, but don’t cause, an infection. They help the body learn how to respond if a real infection attacks your body. As your body builds immunity, however, it is normal to have mild symptoms such as fever.
So which vaccines do adults need? Recommendations vary depending upon your age, overall health, and medical history. It’s really important to stay up to date with vaccines if you have special health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular, liver, or renal disease. That’s because some vaccine-preventable diseases may put you at increased risk for serious complications.
Your doctor may also need to make adaptations with vaccines if you are pregnant or have a medical condition. For example, in certain cases, you may need to avoid the nasal live attenuated influenza vaccine and use an injectable form instead.
Remember: all adults—no matter how healthy you are—should have a seasonal influenza vaccine every year. You can with your doctor about your schedule for these vaccines:
Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Td/Tdap)
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
Be healthy and stay well!