You're never too old for shots

Each year, keeping up vaccinations can help prevent thousands of deaths

August 16, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
Photo illustration,

The only thing standing between thousands of yearly disease-related deaths and better health may be an adult's decision to get a shot in the arm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of people die from vaccine-preventable deaths

"I think influenza is an excellent example," said Dr. Gary L. Euler, an epidemiologist at the CDC. He works at national center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in the Immunization Services Division's Assessment Branch - the group responsible for collecting data on the number of people who get vaccinated.

"Among adults, every year we have 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations during influenza season and shortly after, a three or four-month period. Those numbers are astounding when you think about it," Euler said.

Still, less than a third of the adult population received the flu shot, he said.

"This is very discouraging when we have something that could prevent morbidity," Euler said.


It's the time of year when adults have been shuffling their kids to and from doctor's offices to get needed shots for back to school time.

But adults need shots, too.

If you're 19 or older, the CDC recommends receiving vaccines for influenza, pneumonia, chickenpox and a vaccine referred to as Tdap, which combines protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The CDC also recommends that men and women ages 26 or younger receive a vaccine for Human papillomavairus or HPV.

Hepatitis, measles and shingles are on the list for vulnerable groups or adults with certain risk factors, according to the CDC.

But Euler said too few adults are coming in for shots. He referred to a CDC survey released in June 2009, that asked nearly 23,000 people whether they had received the CDC-recommended vaccines.

According to the survey, only 65 percent of adults older than 65 - a group considered at risk for flu - got flu vaccines. The figure was 35 percent for younger adults, according to the survey. The prevalence of tetanus vaccination over the course of 10 years was 60 percent for adults between 19 and 64.

Local health care providers are encouraging adults to get the Tdap vaccine, said Lisa McCray, a community health nurse at the Washington County Health Department.

McCray said that between July 2009 and June 2010, only 29 adults had received the vaccine.

"Other people may get it from their private doctors office," McCray said. "Usually, we see people who don't have insurance. People who have insurance are getting it from their doctors."

Euler said Tdap offers protection against pertussis - or whooping cough - which manifests itself as a two-week cough. Pertussis isn't considered life-threatening for adults, but it can be deadly for very young infants, those too young to get the vaccine. In California, at least seven infants have died of whooping cough this summer, the Associated Press reported.

"Any of us who have had teenagers in the home will often experience this during the colder months, where the teenager seems to have a cough all the time," he said.

The problem is that it goes undiagnosed among older siblings, parents and grandparents who are around these infants.

"We have a few deaths every year among these infants from this disease that could prevented if those around them were vaccinated," Euler said.

Which vaccines do you need?

Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

Influenza - ages 19 or older, every fall or winter

Pneumococcal - 19 to 64 if you have certain chronic medical conditions. If you're older than 65 you'll need the vaccine.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap) - 19 or older. If you haven't had at least three tetanus and diphtheria containing shots in your lifetime, you need them, according to the CDC. All adults need a Td booster every 10 years. Those 65 and older need a pertussis-containing vaccine as an adult.

Hepatitis A/B - 19 or older. People around bodily fluids or have certain risk factors would need this vaccine. The CDC recommends consulting your health care provider to determine the need for the vaccine.

Human papillomavirus - Age 26 or younger for men and women.

Measles, mumps, rubella -ages 19 to 49. At least one dose if you were born in 1957 or later.

Chicken pox - 19 or older. If you've never had chicken pox or were vaccinated but only received a dose. Consult your health care provider.

Meningococcal - 19 or older. Recommended for young adults going to college and planning to live in a dorm.

Shingles - Recommended for people age 60 years or older.

Find more information about adult vaccinations at

The CDC offers a computer downloadable immunization scheduler and also has links to mobile web applications for smart phones - information available at

The Herald-Mail Articles