Author: Sara Rider
When most of us think about vaccines, we think about kids. Immunization schedules are such an ongoing part of our children’s first years of life that sometimes it seems like they are the only people who need immunizations. But vaccines aren’t just for children; adults need to maintain immunity against a variety of diseases, and depending on your individual health situation and lifestyle, the list of suggested vaccines can be pretty long.
“Most adults grew up getting regular shots from the pediatrician, so while they’re familiar with vaccinations, they often don’t think of immunizations as something they should worry about as adults,” explains Laura Guerrero, M.D., an internal medicine physician at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic and medical director of The Travel Clinic. “But the fact is almost all adults need to continue to receive immunizations throughout their lives. And adults who travel to parts of the world where certain diseases are more common than they are here need even more immunizations.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults get vaccinated for seasonal flu. They also recommend that any adults who did not receive a vaccination as a child for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) get that vaccine. The CDC also recommends that many adults be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease and that adults at higher risk for hepatitis B receive a vaccine to combat that illness.
“Most adults know about the flu vaccine, but they don’t often think about the other basic vaccines that [they] should consider,” states Dr. Guerrero.
The CDC recommends that adults get the flu vaccine each September, or as soon as the vaccine is available to the public. Pneumococcal vaccine is less well known, but can be a life-saver for many adults. Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria pneumococcus and can take several forms, including pneumococcal meningitis and pneumococcal pneumonia. While some people may think of this as a vaccine only for older adults, it can be important for people who have ongoing health problems.
“If you have a chronic illness such as diabetes, asthma, lung or liver disease, this is an important vaccine,” urges Dr. Guerrero. The CDC also recommends it for people who smoke or for people who have had their spleen removed.
And while many of us think of Tdap as a vaccine for children, it’s also important for adults to receive the this vaccine, as the protection from their childhood vaccines decreases over time. “Tdap is particularly important to take if you’ve just had a baby, or you come into contact with infants or work in a healthcare setting,” explains Dr. Guerrero.
Recent informational campaigns have made more people aware of the shingles vaccine, which is recommended for all people over the age of 60. But many people don’t think about being vaccinated against hepatitis B.
“People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who are 59 or younger should be vaccinated against hepatitis B.
You should also get the vaccine if your work or vacations take you to a part of the world where hepatitis B is common” Dr. Guerrero suggests.
The hepatitis B vaccine is also recommended for people on hemodialysis, for healthcare workers who may be exposed to infected blood or body fluids or for people who are sexually active but not in a mutually monogamous relationship.
Vaccines for young adults
Some vaccines are important for young adults to take. If you’re sending your child off to college for the first time this fall – and he or she has never lived in a dorm before – it’s important for college students to be vaccinated against meningitis. The meningitis vaccine is also recommended for someone who is joining the military or who travels to parts of the world where meningitis is common.
Many young adults may also want to be vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for young women who are 26 or younger and were not vaccinated against HPV as children. For young men, the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for boys 21 or younger who also did not receive the vaccine as a child.
Who shouldn’t be vaccinated?
Although vaccines are a bulwark of public health in this country, there still are situations in which people should not be vaccinated and many other times when they need to talk to their physicians before being vaccinated.
“Anyone who is ill should not get a vaccine that day,” cautions Dr. Guerrero. “They should wait until they are well before being vaccinated. People who have had a severe reaction to a particular vaccine in the past should not receive that vaccine again.”
Some vaccines, such as HPV, are not recommended if you have had a severe allergic reaction to yeast or latex. Others, like the flu vaccine, should not be given if you have a severe allergy to eggs.
“It’s important to check with your physician before getting any type of vaccine,” maintains Dr. Guerrero. “Your doctor will know your health history and any health problems that either make it more important to get the vaccine, or just as important to not receive it. You should also talk with your doctor about other possible vaccines, like chicken pox and measles, mumps and rubella, because those can be important vaccines if you didn’t receive them as a child.”
Sara Rider is a native Austinite who has worked with physicians and hospitals throughout Texas. She frequently writes freelance articles on health topics for newspapers and magazines.