Often overlooked, adult immunizations are an important part of preventive care as we get older.
While vaccines are commonly associated with childhood, their importance extends far beyond those early years. As adults, staying up to date with immunizations is equally vital to safeguarding our health and protecting those around us.
We spoke with Jacqueline Kerber, APRN, CNP at Mercy Health —Kings Mills Primary Care, about the significance of adult vaccinations, the diseases they prevent and the benefits they offer in maintaining a healthy community.
“Vaccines are the best way to reduce diseases that once killed people all over the world,” Jacqueline explains. “Vaccinations help to ensure herd immunity which helps prevent spreading many serious diseases, such as the flu and diphtheria.”
Additionally, new vaccines can become available to protect against emerging diseases or variants. Certain medical conditions or lifestyle factors can increase the risk of preventable diseases, making vaccination important for overall health and protection of vulnerable populations. And fortunately, many of these vaccines have long lasting protection rather than having to get them every year.
To make sure you are current on vaccines, it is important to talk to your primary care provider about what is right for your health plan.
“The annual flu vaccine as well as COVID-19, and Tdap every 10 years is a good place to start,” Jacqueline advises. “You’ll need the Varicella vaccine if you have not had chicken pox, Zoster for everyone over 50 and the Pneumococcal vaccine for adults over the age of 65, or ages 19 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions or risk factors.”
Additional vaccines to consider are:
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for all person through age 26. It is a two or three dosage series depending on the initial age of the series. Most patients over the age of 26 years have already been exposed to HPV and vaccination is unlikely to assist in immunity. However, the CDC does recommend previously unvaccinated adults greater than 27 who have had a low likelihood of prior HPV exposure but have a future risk of HPV exposure receive the two series vaccinations.
- The hepatitis A vaccine is a series of two to three vaccines and can be given to an individual who wants protections from hepatitis A. This vaccine should be given to at risk populations, such as persons with chronic liver disease, HIV infection, working with persons infected with hepatitis A and travel to countries with a high endemic hepatitis A.
- The hepatitis B vaccine is two, three or four series shot that all newborns typically receive. It is recommended for all health care providers, individuals with chronic liver disease, HIV infections or travel to areas with a hepatitis B endemic.
- The meningococcal vaccine is a typically a two series shot given beginning at age 11. This vaccine helps to prevent meningococcal disease, which can cause serious infections to the lining of the brain, spinal cord or blood. First-year college students living in residential housing and individuals traveling to countries with epidemic meningococcal disease should also be vaccinated for protection against the disease.
Vaccines may not be a good fit for everyone. And while vaccines are optional, there are many risks associated with being unvaccinated. So again, it’s essential to discuss any concerns about vaccines with your primary care provider to make an informed decision.
“All vaccines are optional. However, to prevent spreading many serious diseases vaccines are highly recommended,” Jacqueline shares. “Vaccines protect a person’s health and risk of theses serious diseases which can result in poor health. Additionally, unvaccinated adults can contribute to outbreaks and transmission of infectious diseases within their communities.”
Like any medical intervention, Jacqueline notes that, “any vaccine can cause side effects, such as a sore arm or low-grade fever. But long-term side effects are very rare.”
Overall, the benefits of vaccination in preventing serious illnesses generally outweigh the risks.
Additionally, some childhood vaccines, like the tetanus vaccine, may require booster shots during adulthood to maintain immunity.
“Often times you may be no longer protected from the original vaccine received as a child any may require a booster,” Jacqueline shares.
Others, like the MMR vaccine, typically provide lifetime immunity for most individuals. Immunity to certain diseases may diminish over time, and new strains may emerge, so staying up to date is crucial.
If you’re unsure which vaccines you currently have, the easiest way to find out is to have a blood test that your primary care provider can schedule. Additionally, public health departments may have vaccine registries that can help track your records. It’s essential to consult with your primary care provider to create a personalized vaccination plan based on your age, health conditions and risk factors.
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