There has been much in the media regarding childhood vaccination in light of recent measles outbreaks, but it’s also important to remember that healthy adults also need to stay up to date.
There are five vaccines routinely recommended for all adults, regardless of medical history.
Influenza is the most common vaccine preventable disease in the United States. On average, there are 49,000 deaths in the U.S. due to influenza every year. Ninety percent of flu deaths and hospitalizations are in people 65 and older.
Annual vaccination is recommended because of the remarkable ability of flu strains to change. The vaccine is different each year based on the strains predicted to circulate.
Only one pneumococcal vaccine, Pneumovax, is recommended for healthy adults 65 and older. This is a change from the previous recommendations for two vaccines.
Pneumovax protects against the most common bacteria causing pneumonia that can invade the blood stream or spinal fluid and cause death. This bacteria is also a common complication of flu infection, and a major reason why people die from the flu.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for all adults through 26 years of age, who haven’t already received the vaccine at the recommended age of 11 to 12 years. The vaccine prevents cancers associated with HPV infections including cervical, anal and throat cancers.
HPV is acquired through skin-to-skin contact and is extremely common, with 75 percent of us having at least one infection during our lifetime. Most infections clear spontaneously, but 10 percent of infections persist and may lead to cancer.
The vaccine is safe and nearly 100 percent effective if given before exposure to the virus. The vaccine is Food and Drug Administration approved for up to 45 years of age, but insurance companies may not cover over the age of 26 at this time.
The tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is recommended as a one-time vaccine for all adults 19 years and older. After that, a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine is needed every 10 years to boost immunity. The exception is pregnant women, for which the Tdap is recommended every pregnancy to protect the baby from pertussis (whooping cough), which can be fatal.
Protection from tetanus is important as it can be acquired from the environment. Diphtheria causes a sometimes-fatal throat infection. Although it has been eliminated from the U.S., vaccination is important because the disease could be reintroduced from other parts of the world.
Shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus resulting in a painful rash along a nerve. There are two shingles vaccines. Shingrix was licensed in 2017 and recommended as a two-shot series for all adults, ages 50 years and older.
After the first dose, the second is recommended 2 to 6 months later. The older vaccine, Zostavax is no longer the recommended choice. If you had the Zostavax, you should also get the Shingrix.
Talk to your doctor to make sure you are up to date with the vaccines that will keep you healthy.