Immunizations for Adults
While most of the current media buzz surrounding immunizations has to do with the childhood variety, it is important to remember that there are also vaccines that are intended for adults, too. These are surprisingly effective, and can help keep adults healthier. They are especially important, though, for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and COPD (emphysema).
There are many adult vaccines available, but the most common ones given in the U.S. are influenza, Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis, Pneumococcal vaccines, and Varicella. Less common adult vaccines that may be given in special situations and foreign travel include HPV, MMR (Measles), Hepatitis A &B, Hemophilus Influenze B (HIB), Yellow fever, Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Anthrax, and Meningococcal vaccines.
The most common adult immunization given in the U.S. is influenza. The “flu” vaccine is made new each fall, and consists of the 3 strains that were the most common strains of the virus at the end of the last flu season. The flu virus is notorious for mutating and changing during the course of the season, and so it will often change prior to the fall release of the new vaccine – because of this, some years the vaccine is less effective than others. However, every year studies show that receiving the vaccine decreases a person’s chance of getting the flu as well as being hospitalized with complication of influenza. It may not be perfect – but better than nothing!
The next most common adult vaccine is TDaP. This stands for Tetanus, Diphtheria and acellular Pertussis (whooping cough). Adults should get a tetanus/diphtheria booster every 10 years (or every 5 years if they are exposed to a high risk wound like a dirty nail from a horse pen), with at least one of those boosters containing Pertussis. Furthermore, it is recommended that all pregnant women receive a booster shot of TDaP every pregnancy at about 28 weeks to help protect their newborn. In addition, many parents are now insisting that any one (like grandparents!) that will be around their child should have a pertussis booster. We have a lot of pertussis in our region, and this vaccine is our best defense against that potentially fatal disease.
Next is the Pneumococcal vaccines. These two vaccines – PCV13 and PPS 23, or Prevnar and Pneumovax, are given in combination several months apart. They are designed for adults over 65 or those with a compromised immune systems at a younger age. They target Strep Pneumonia, the bacteria that is the most common cause of death from pneumonia in the U.S. In people between 60 and 80 years of age, receiving these vaccines decreases a person’s risk of dying from pneumonia by over 10% – but it is most effective in people with chronic conditions who need this protection the most.
Lastly is the Shingles vaccine. Shingles is an extremely painful rash that is caused by the re-activation of the chicken pox virus (varicella) the individual had as a child. The pain of shingles cannot be overstated, and can linger for years after the rash resolves. The vaccine is about 70% effective in preventing shingles, and can be given to any one over the age of 60.
While there is a lot of controversy surrounding vaccines, the simple fact is that they are our best defense against many potentially fatal or life altering diseases. They are not perfect, and not indicated for everyone – so please talk to your doctor about whether or not these vaccines can help keep you healthy.
by Geoff Jones, MD – Newport Hospital and Health Services
Dr. Geoff Jones graduated from University of Washington School of Medicine in 1996, completed his residency at Family Medicine Spokane in 1999, and has practiced in Newport (Washington) since 2003. He is a Clinical Instructor for the University of Washington School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, and is on faculty for Family Medicine Spokane.