Most parents are diligent about making sure their children get needed vaccines and are up-to-date on all of their shots. But when was the last time you got any immunizations yourself? It is estimated that each year, 40,000 to 50,000 adults in the United States die from diseases for which there is a vaccine. Yet a recent report by The Trust For America’s Health shows that millions of Adults skip these recommended vaccinations.
According to the report, only about a third of adults get the annual flu vaccination. Only about ten percent of adult women have gotten the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Rates for many vaccines are even lower, with only 2 percent of adults vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
Why do so many adults put their health at risk by failing to get vaccinated? Many assume that vaccines are only for kids, and that those they received as a child will protect them for life. However, some adults may not have gotten all of the recommended vaccinations as children. Many vaccines have been developed over the past couple of decades, so today’s adults never had a chance to get them as children. Even for those who received every recommended shot as a child, immunity can fade over time.
While doctors are advised to review their patients’ vaccine status at every check-up, this doesn’t often happen, says Dr. Lance Rodewald of the CDC. If your doctor doesn’t, you should ask if you need any vaccines. If you’re not sure which shots you may have gotten as a kid, you can try tracking down your old medical records, undergo a blood test to check for immunity, or get re-vaccinated. These are the five vaccines that doctors typically recommend for their adult patients:
- HPV (Human papilloma virus) Vaccine. For girls and women ages 11-26. This vaccine protects against strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.
- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) Vaccine. You don’t need this if you’ve received a live measles vaccine since the 1960s. But if you were vaccinated before 1968 with a different form of the vaccine, you should be re-vaccinated. If you were born after 1956, you should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine unless you’ve already gotten the live measles vaccine.
- Varicella (Chicken pox) Vaccine. Recommended for those over the age of 13 who have never gotten chicken pox. While chicken pox is often considered to be a harmless childhood illness, it can actually be quite serious in adults.
- Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Vaccine. A single dose of this vaccine is recommended for those over age 60. This vaccine is a much stronger version of the one used to prevent chicken pox, as both illnesses are caused by the varicella virus. If you have had chicken pox, the virus can re-activate later in life, causing shingles, a painful condition in the nerve cells.
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine and Td (tetanus) Vaccine. Adults should receive one of these vaccines every ten years. It protects against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria, three bacterial infections leading to serious symptoms such as coughing, breathing problems, heart failure, and muscle spasms.
There are other vaccines recommended for certain people who may be at increased risk of contracting the disease or of experiencing severe symptoms from the disease. These include the Hepatitis A and B, pneumococcal, and meninogococcal vaccines. Those who are planning international travel may need to be vaccinated against other illnesses. Check with your doctor to see which vaccines are recommended for you.
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