Vaccinations? Aren’t those for kids? You may think that you got almost all of the ones that you needed when you were a child. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many adults in the US still need more vaccines to protect their health—sometimes boosters and sometimes new ones for adults with certain risk factors—and most people aren’t getting them.
If you suspect that vaccinations for adults are unnecessary or too risky, then consider this eye-grabbing statistic—as many as 45,000 Americans die on average each year from diseases that may have been prevented by vaccinations, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
To explore which vaccinations adults should consider getting—and why more Americans aren’t getting them—I spoke with Carolyn B. Bridges, MD, associate director of adult immunization at the CDC and coauthor of the report.
WHO’S REALLY GETTING WHAT
There are five vaccines in particular that the CDC recommends for adults—though there are others that some people may need. Which exact ones you need depends on your age, medical conditions and more. But most people aren’t getting them. According to a CDC survey of post-childhood vaccinations among Americans in 2010…
- Only 8% of those who should have gotten the combo vaccination known as “Tdap” for tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) got it.
- Just 14% of the adults who should have gotten a shot to protect themselves from shingles received it.
- Among women ages 19 to 26 who are recommended to get the HPV vaccine, a mere 21% reported that they had received one or more doses of the human papilloma virus (HPV)—a three-dose series is needed. The HPV vaccine reduces the risk for most cervical cancers.
- Only 19% of adults ages 19 to 64 who are at high risk for pneumonia received the vaccine that would protect them against it.
Why are so few adults availing themselves of vaccines that the CDC says can protect them against diseases that are serious and sometimes life threatening?
WHAT WE ARE THINKING
“It’s a combination of things,” Dr. Bridges told me. One problem is a lack of information—some adults simply may not realize that they put themselves at greater risk for certain diseases by avoiding vaccinations, she said. Another issue is that the out-of-pocket costs can be a burden for those who don’t have adequate health-care coverage, she added.
BE A PROACTIVE PATIENT
The good news is that the solution is simple. Make it a point to talk with your doctor about your vaccine needs, because there isn’t one standard list for every person. “Recommendations vary by your age, what medical conditions you have, your occupation and other things like your lifestyle choices and where you travel,” said Dr. Bridges. If you’re concerned about the risks of any vaccines, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Here are five of the top vaccines worth asking about, according to Dr. Bridges, since they can prevent relatively common diseases…
1. The flu vaccine.
2. The pneumococcal vaccine (for pneumonia).
3. Herpes zoster vaccine (for shingles).
4. Tdap vaccine (for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis).
5. HPV vaccine
I suspect that many doctors aren’t on top of their patients’ vaccine schedules—in fact, I can’t remember the last time that my doctor mentioned any vaccine that wasn’t related to the flu. So don’t assume that your doctor will necessarily bring up this topic. If you’re not sure whether or not you’ve already gotten some of these vaccines, let your doctor know. When it comes to vaccinations, it’s important to be a proactive patient.