Vaccines: They’re Not Just for Kids (But Too Few U.S. Adults Are Getting Immunized)

Don't blame adults too much: adult vaccine schedules are much tricker to manage than the standard immunization requirements for children.

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Shots are never fun no matter what your age, but according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults may dread them (almost) as much as children. Each year, 45,000 Americans die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Despite that, U.S. adults are not getting the immunizations they need.

According to the report published in the Feb. 3 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, three vaccines — tetanus, diphtheria and acellus pertussis, or Tdap; human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and a vaccine for shingles — showed small increases among adults in 2010. The rate of coverage climbed from 1.6% to 8.2%.

“There were some modest increases in coverage but for very few vaccines,” Dr. Carolyn B. Bridges, associate director of adult immunization at the CDC and co-author of the report, told HealthDay. Coverage is much lower than we would like to see it.”

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Some other vaccines also improved their rates slightly: the number of young women who got at least one dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which guards against 70% of cervical cancers, grew more than 3.5%, to 20.7%.  And 16.6% of whites aged 60 and older received a shingles vaccine, up more than 5%.

But other adult vaccine coverage showed virtually the same numbers as the CDC’s 2009 estimates:  hepatitis A hovered at 10.7% and hepatitis B at 42%. Similar results were found for pneumonia vaccines.

Why are adults not protecting themselves? Bridges cites a simple lack of information and irregular visits to the doctor. Adult vaccine schedules are also trickier than children’s.

“They are not just based on age, like most of the pediatric vaccines,” Bridges told HealthDay. “Adult vaccines are recommended only for a certain age or if you have a high-risk medical condition or certain occupation or travel. So it’s a little bit complicated.”

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Adults should also be aware of what vaccines they may have missed as children. According to Bridges, some adults may not have had vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella and should be vaccinated now.

To improve these low vaccination rates, the CDC recommends improved education, better access to vaccines, physician reminders and recall systems.