Adult immunizations: What vaccines do you need to protect your family?

August 7, 2014 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn
Doctor injecting vaccine to senior woman

Everyone’s familiar with childhood immunizations. What you may not be aware of is that vaccine science is continually evolving, with new immunizations being developed and approved almost yearly.

A few years ago, who would have imagined there would be a vaccine that can help prevent cervical cancer, the number two cancer killer of women in the world? But millions of young women and young men have already been vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) strains that cause 70 percent of invasive cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts worldwide.

Immunizations aren’t simply for the young either. There are a number of booster shot recommendations for adults as well as vaccinations that help protect against shingles, pneumonia, meningitis and hepatitis.

Why is immunization still necessary?

Some people wonder why immunization is still needed against diseases that have not surfaced in the U.S. for decades. One consideration is the global nature of the world. While measles are now uncommon in the U.S., the disease is still prevalent in countries like Russia and Africa. Because international travel is now common, measles can easily be “imported” into the U.S. There have also been several outbreaks this year in unvaccinated groups like the Amish and others who have a religious exemption from vaccination. There have also been polio outbreaks in Syria and other regions in the Middle East and a resurgence of whooping cough in the U.S.

Another fact to consider—non-fatal vaccine preventable diseases can still have serious health effects:

  • Mumps can cause male sterility, encephalitis and pancreatic damage that can lead to the development of diabetes.
  • Pertussis, or whooping cough, can cause permanent brain damage in children under a year old.
  • Hepatitis B can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.
  • Shingles can cause chronic pain, fatigue and, when it affects the eye, loss of vision.

What vaccines do you need?

The varicella vaccine is recommended for adults who have no proof of immunity to chicken pox. In addition, check with your health care provider to learn if you need:

  • Hepatitis A vaccine
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • MMR booster for adults born after 1957
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide (protects against pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia) for those 65 and older
  • Shingles vaccine
  • Seasonal flu vaccine

While some people have raised concerns about vaccine safety, the benefits conferred by vaccines outweigh the risk. In addition, when you get the recommended immunizations, you’re helping protect family members who aren’t yet vaccinated against serious illnesses. That’s especially important if you have contact with babies who haven’t completed their scheduled immunizations yet or family members or friends with a compromised immune system, for example people who are undergoing chemotherapy or who have had an organ transplant. If you have concerns or questions about any vaccines, talk with your doctor frankly so you can make an informed decision.

To find out how you can get evidence-based information on a wide range of health issues, click here.