Immunizations: They're Not Just For Children

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Some adults believe that the vaccines they received as children will protect them for the rest of their lives. In general, this is true, except that:

  1. Some adults did not receive some or any vaccinations as children.
  2. Some of today’s newer vaccines were not available when they were children.
  3. Immunity can begin to fade over time.
  4. As people age, they become more susceptible to serious illness (such as flu or pneumonia) caused by common infections.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to ask your physician about any immunizations you may need. (Women who may be or are pregnant should check with their physician before receiving any vaccine. Some vaccines may be given during pregnancy, while others should not be given)

Vaccines Recommended for All Adults

  • Hepatitis B vaccine—Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. This vaccine, first available for general use in 1981, helps to prevent hepatitis B virus infection.

  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine—Anyone 18 years of age or older who was born after 1956 should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine, unless they can show that they have had either the vaccines or the diseases.

  • Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccine—Tetanus (lockjaw) and diphtheria are serious diseases. Tetanus is an often fatal infectious disease caused by the bacteria which usually enter the body through a puncture, cut, or open wound. Diphtheria is an acute bacterial infection that usually strikes the upper respiratory tract. This vaccine is recommended for all adults every 10 years, or after getting a dirty wound if the last injection was more than five years ago.

  • Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine—Chickenpox, a common childhood disease, is usually mild in children. However, it can lead to serious illness in adults. A person who never had chickenpox before adulthood should receive this vaccine.

Vaccines Needed for Adults Age 50+

  • Influenza vaccine—The flu, caused by viruses, can cause mild to severe illness, and at times death. Older adults and people with certain health conditions are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu. All adults age 50 or older should receive a yearly flu shot (if they do not have a condition which makes a flu shot inadvisable). People with certain high-risk medical conditions also should be immunized.

  • Pneumococcal vaccine—This vaccine helps prevent the most common type of pneumonia and is recommended for people age 65 or older. Most people who receive the vaccine at age 65 or older require this vaccine only once. Younger adults with certain chronic conditions should also be immunized.

Vaccines for Special Situations

  • Meningitis—Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection. It can cause meningitis—severe swelling of the brain and spinal cord, and can also lead to sepsis—a dangerous and potentially life-threatening blood infection. Outbreaks tend to be more common in relatively confined environments such as small communities or college campuses. However, anyone can get it. The vaccine can be given to college students and others who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease.

  • Healthcare workers—In general, healthcare workers should be current with Hepatitis B, influenza, MMR, and chickenpox vaccines.

  • Animal workers—People at high risk of exposure to rabies, such as veterinarians and animal handlers, should be offered the prophylactic rabies vaccine in the event they are bitten by a rabid animal.

  • Travelers—People who travel outside of the U.S. may need various vaccinations depending on their destination. Some common immunizations for travelers include hepatitis A, typhoid fever, yellow fever, cholera, and meningococcal disease.

Dr. James Siy is board certified in internal medicine and has a practice as part of Columbia St. Mary’s Community Physicians.


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