What’s your excuse for not being up-to-date on your adult immunizations?
I’m so healthy that I don’t need them.
I’m too busy right now.
I have an egg allergy or a gluten allergy.
Side effects can be risky.
The flu shot can give you flu.
I don’t think flu shots work.
I don’t like shots.
When it comes to adults getting the shots they need, they don’t always act like grown-ups.
Doctors hear a lot of excuses.
On the whole, adults in the United States are not getting vaccinated as much as they should, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only 20 percent of adults over the age of 19 have had the updated Tdap vaccine, which guards against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, which is whooping cough, and only 44 percent of adults had a flu shot last year.
About 60 percent of adults over 65 did receive the pneumococcal vaccine.
People with health insurance were two to five times more likely to be immunized.
Here are the facts: immunizations are safe, life protecting and one of the true miracles of contemporary life.
“Immunizations protect us from a number of potentially life-threatening diseases, and even if you have a strong immune system and could survive a preventable disease, what if you transmit it to a child or a grandchild or an elderly parent or friend?” said Megan Berman, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
So who over 19 needs what kind of vaccines?
Berman says these are the big five:
1. A one-time update of the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis; then a tetanus shot every 10 years. If you are pregnant, you should have a pertussis vaccine in your third trimester to extend protection to the baby.
2. A flu shot, every year for everyone over the age of 6 months. It’s recommended that you have a flu shot as soon as it becomes available, ideally by October.
“We continue to vaccinate as long as we see the flu virus circulation, and we are still seeing cases — I diagnosed two this week,” she said. Usually influenza peaks in February. It takes about two weeks to build immunity.
3. If you’re 26 or younger, it is recommended that you receive the HPV vaccine which protects you from strains of the human papilloma virus which may cause several types of cancer that develop later in life.
4. If you’re 65 and older, you should have two one-time each pneumococcal vaccines to protect you from bacterial pneumonia. They are given one year apart. This shot does not protect you from all types of pneumonias, just the most common bacteria, which is involved in one third of all infections.
5. The Shingles vaccine. This is the same as the chickenpox vaccine but 14 times stronger. It’s recommended for all adults aged 60 or older. The complications of Shingles can be a painful rash.
“Think about what we have been able to achieve with immunizations. Smallpox has been eradicated and we are close to eradicating polio too,” Berman said.
In some ways, the great success of immunizations has also been its detriment.
“We are not scared of certain diseases because we have never seen them; so we stop believing it’s a risk,” she said.
Measles was eliminated in 2000 thanks to a highly effective measles vaccine, even though it is still occurring in many parts of the world.
“Outbreaks can occur in the U.S. when unvaccinated groups are exposed to imported measles vaccines,” she said.
But some diseases are still so common that a choice not to get the vaccine is a choice to risk infection. These include chickenpox, pertussis, hepatitis B, influenza and pneumococcus, she said.
Vaccinations are one of the best ways to put an end the serious effects of certain diseases.
“The truth is influenza is the most frequent cause of death from a vaccine preventable disease.”
Five years ago when the H1N1 influenza strain was detected, people were lining up to get their flu shots, Berman said.
Every flu vaccine now carries protection against the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain of influenza.
“For history buffs, there have been two H1N1 pandemics. The first was in 1918 — the Spanish flu — and the second in 2009,” Berman said.
“In 1918, about 10-20 percent of those infected died, which means three to six percent of the global population died from this flu.”
Although an exact number is not available, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that up to 18,300 deaths related to H1N1 occurred in the U.S. between April 2009 and April 2010, and there were about 400,000 hospitalizations. Worldwide the death toll was much higher.
Vaccinations made a difference.
As for that rumor about the flu shot giving you the flu, it’s not possible. The flu shot contains a dead virus and a dead virus can’t make you sick, Berman said.
Also, most people with an egg allergy can safely get a flu shot. The most recent recommendations are that the risk of influenza is greater than the risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccines. They don’t contain enough egg protein to cause a reaction. If the allergy is severe, it is recommended that you have the shot at your doctor’s office instead of the pharmacy, Berman said.
A gluten allergy has no effect at all on immunizations.
The side effects of immunizations, if there are any at all, include soreness, redness and swelling around the vaccine site.
Also, while these five vaccines are recommended for adults, if you are traveling to other parts of the world you may need additional vaccinations.
Information is available at the travel clinic for the medical branch at (409) 747-0775 or by checking the website at: www.utmbhealth.com/services/infectious-disease/travel.
“In order to strengthen our medical system and to lower costs, we need to move in the direction of preventing illness. Immunizations are a good start,” she said.