Stickin’ It to the Adults


Okay, you've been careful about making sure your children have received all the vaccinations they need, and your pediatrician says that all is well on that front. There's somewhat a sense of relief that the time with a needle is over.

But is it? No, not as long as you forget about yourself and all the vaccines you may need to stay healthy. Many adults are due for shots, and although some doctors may neglect this, it's worth pressing the issue.

Vaccines are the most natural and cost-effective way of preventing illness. They take advantage of the body's ability to act as a chemical factory, preventing infection and also helping to break the very chain of infection that can result in infections.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that not enough adults are getting all the shots they need to prevent serious diseases. What's more, a new survey shows that the vast majority of adults now lack the awareness of vaccines and the severity of infectious diseases.

For example, more than 1 million adults get shingles every year, even though a vaccine now exists that eases the disease and even prevents it. It's been approved for use by adults 60 and older, yet only 1.9 percent of adults who qualify have received the vaccine, according to the CDC.

Many adults don't know that they're at risk for many diseases, says Dr. Davis A. Cohen, clinical associate professor of medicine at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood. "Many adults believe vaccines are just for children, but that's not true. As we get older, there are many diseases vaccines can help prevent.

"As a matter of fact," continues Cohen, "there's the pneumonia vaccine, which is very important for people over age 65, and those with any kind of heart or lung disease. If you get it over age 65, you only need it once, but if you're under 65, you will need it again."

An Age-Old Misconception
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, a family practitioner associated with Abington Memorial Hospital's Physician Network, agrees.

"There's a common misconception that once you're over age 18, you don't need to get vaccinated anymore because the only diseases that could hurt you are childhood diseases, like measles, mumps, chicken pox, and so on," he explains.

But the fact is, he adds, "there are lots of diseases crossing over to affect adults, diseases like pertussis (whooping cough), for example, and if those diseases strike during adulthood, they can be particularly damaging.

"Let's look at it this way," says Rosenberg. "We usually stop getting immunized by age 18 or 19. But if you have a chronic disease, [it] should never stop.

"Little babies can't fight off disease, so we know we have to immunize them, and they'll be protected. Well, when we get older we tend to shrink. Our immunities don't last forever, and our resistance wanes.

"Adult diseases cause a lot of problems. In this age group, everybody talks about health-care expenditures," he says.

"But one little vaccination can actually save you thousands of dollars in hospital costs — let alone the mortality and morbidity involved," he concludes.

Shots on the Short List
According to Dr. David L. Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, which is funded through the CDC, "on the short list of vaccines should definitely be the flu shot. About 30,000 people in the United Sates each year suffer from complications of the flu. There are many deaths which are preventable with the vaccine."

Continues Katz: "Our immune system functions less robustly as we grow older. That's why the elderly are most vulnerable to the flu and any complications that arise from it. That's why it's so important that they, in particular, get immunized."

So, these experts agree with the CDC that you should check with your doctor first and ask about the various vaccines that are currently available on the market.

Some of those recommended for adults by the CDC cover familiar territory, such as pneumonia; influenza; diphtheria; hepatitis and hepatitis B; rubella; shingles; tetanus; measles; and meningitis.


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