Adult immunization recommendations | by Maribeth Neelis

Posted on Tue, Apr 17, 2018

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that many adults fail to get important vaccinations, often times because they don’t even know they exist. Adult immunization recommendations can be complicated, because factors like job, travel and chronic conditions may increase a person’s risk of contracting certain infectious diseases.

Vaccinations for Adults

Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center Drs. Scott Bentz, emergency department physician and medical director, and Scott Joy, primary care physician, weigh in on the top five most important vaccinations for adults.

#1 Influenza

Bentz says getting a flu shot every year is a good idea for everyone, regardless of age. The flu virus is typically active October through April and really gains steam throughout the winter months.

“(The virus) is especially rough on the old, the young, people who are pregnant, and people with chronic underlying conditions, especially lung disease,” Bentz says. And the more people who get vaccinated in a community — even when the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective — the less the virus is able to spread to those vulnerable populations, he says.

The bonus: A flu shot can improve your health all year long. “People who get the flu shot are 25 percent less likely to get other viruses throughout the year, because it enhances your immunity,” Joy says.

#2 Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (TDAP)

While most people know about the tetanus vaccine, Joy says few bring it up with their primary care physicians. He advises his patients to get a tetanus with whooping cough booster every 10 years. Pregnant women should get the TDAP vaccination during each pregnancy between 27 and 36 weeks.

“We are seeing a resurgence of pertussis — or whopping cough — in the community, particularly in Colorado. If you’re exposed to kids under 5, you can help reduce the burden of pertussis by getting vaccinated,” Joy says.

#3 Varicella and Zoster 

Joy shares an analogy to explain the connection between the varicella (chickenpox) and zoster (shingles) viruses: “If you had chickenpox as a child, your body has kept the virus in prison all these years. When your immune system is strong, it’s a good security guard. But as you get older, or if you get a chronic medical condition, or your immune system becomes compromised, it gets weaker and the virus can escape and cause this painful eruption with a rash and nerve pain known as shingles.”

For this reason, adults over 19 years of age who have never had chickenpox or been vaccinated, should get two doses of the varicella vaccine to protect against both viruses. Those over the age of 50 who had chickenpox as children are at risk for shingles and should discuss the zoster vaccine with their doctors.

#4 Pneumococcal Disease

“A lot of patients may under recognize the need for the pneumococcal vaccination,” Joy says. “It’s particularly important for all patients over the age of 65 to be vaccinated against bacterial pneumonia.”

He says patients over 65 years of age and those with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions should receive two vaccinations a year apart. Adults who fall into these categories should discuss their options with a primary care physician.

#5 Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

According to the CDC, the human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States with about 79 million Americans currently infected and about 14 million more newly infected each year.

Joy says the stigma around the sexual transmission of the disease makes some people hesitant to get it for themselves or their children. However, he recommends it for females up to age 26 and males up to age 21 who did not receive it as children.

“It’s such a unique vaccine; it actually protects against cancer,” Joy says.

See Your Pharmacist and Physician

These days, it’s easier than ever to keep up with the recommended immunizations. Many pharmacists are now giving many vaccines, and Joy says people should feel completely comfortable getting vaccinations in a pharmacy setting.

People with chronic conditions or upcoming travel should discuss other important immunizations with a primary care physician.


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