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Adult Vaccination – Why it Matters

Your immune system is an efficient system that helps protect you against pathogens that causes infection.

However, certain pathogens can overwhelm your immune system. When this happens, it may cause illness.

The pathogens that cause problems are the ones that our body does not recognize. Vaccination helps train or teach your body’s immune system on how to recognize and get rid of an organism it has not come into contact with before. That way, your body is fully prepared if you are ever exposed.

Vaccines are a vital form of primary prevention. They are designed to prevent diseases. Vaccinations have enabled us to control diseases that once threatened numerous lives, such as:

  1. Tetanus
  2. Small Pox
  3. Chicken Pox
  4. Polio
  5. Measles
  6. Pertussis (whooping cough)
  7. Tuberculosis

It is very important that as many people as possible get vaccinated. Vaccinations doesn’t just protect individuals, when enough people are vaccinated, it helps protect society by causing herd immunity .

Are Vaccinations safe?

Vaccines are rigorously tested and undergo many rounds of examination study and research before they are released and used for the general public. Therefore, they are considered to be safe.

There overwhelming bulk of research and evidence material available out there that shows that vaccines are not only safe but the side effects are also rare.Typically, the side effects that do occur are mild.

In fact, there is a greater risk of getting potentially sick for people who choose not to get a vaccine. The disease may be far more worse than the potential side effects of any vaccine.

How Effective are Vaccinations?

Vaccines have proved to be highly effective. However, the effectiveness of vaccines differs from one type to another.

As per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccines are effective in lowering the risk of flu infection by 40 to 60 percent in those who get the shot. The the World Health Organization (WHO), on the other hand, says that the measles vaccineis 98 percent effective when administered as recommended. Indeed, according to WHO, most childhood vaccines are 85 to 95 percent effective if administered properly.

Pros and Cons of Vaccinations

When considering whether or not to be vaccinated, considering the following factors is very improtant:

ProsCons
Vaccines help prevent deadly diseases that can sicken or kill and have killed many people  As each vaccine is made with different components, each can affect us differently. Individuals who have experienced allergic reactions to some vaccines in the past may experience the same again
Researchers investigate each vaccine thoroughly before presenting the data to the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The US FDA can either approve or deny the vaccine. There are overwhelming majority of research that shows that vaccines are safeYou could still get sick, even if you are vaccinated
Vaccines does not just protect you, they protect people around you – especially those who are not well enough to be vaccinatedSome individuals with weakened immune systems cannot be vaccinated or they should only be vaccinated under close supervision of a health care provider

Side Effects of Vaccination

Most of the side effects from a vaccine injection are mild and some people may not experience any side effects at all. However, when side effects do occur (some rarer than other), they include:

  1. Joint pain near the injection site
  2. Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site
  3. Weakness in the muscle on a particular region of the body
  4. Low-grade to high fever
  5. Fatigue

Severe side effects are extremely rare and may occur after taking  some types of vaccines .

Risk Factors

There are a few risk factors that do increase your risk for having side effects from a vaccination. Such risk factors include:

  1. Being ill at the time you receive any vaccination
  2. Having a personal or family history of vaccine reactions
  3. Having a suppressed or weak immune system

Severe or life-threatening reactions or side effects from vaccines are extremely rare. In fact,  many people are at a greater risk of becoming sick from diseases (Ex. Influenza, commonly called the flu) if they are not vaccinated.

Vaccinations in Children

Vaccines are administered in childhood in order to help protect their immune systems against a variety of potentially dangerous diseases. Newborns have a natural immunity acquired from their mothers in their earliest months. As the immunity begins to wane, vaccines are given to take over and prevent them from falling ill.

Vaccinations help protect a child against diseases that their family members, classmates, playmates and friends may transfer to them. That is why, as children near school age, some vaccines need a booster or a follow-up dose. The booster shot helps reinforce the child’s defenses against disease. The CDC sets a recommended vaccine schedule. Most of the vaccines are delivered in a group (or vaccine series).

Vaccinations in Adults

While most of us think that vaccines and immunization are only for kids (small children), they are recommended throughout your life (from childhood to older age) to prevent diseases. Vaccines for adults are recommended based on their age, medical conditions, occupation, lifestyle, travel and prior vaccination. 

Why Vaccinations for Adults are Important ?

  1. Adult Vaccinations can save lives

    Globally millions of adults fall seriously sick and get hospitalized for diseases that could be prevented easily by vaccines. Adult vaccinations are also necessary because more than 25 percent of mortality is due to infectious diseases. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination coverage worldwide is still 85 percent with no significant increase from the past few years. If vaccination coverage in adults is increased, an additional 1.5 million deaths can be avoided.

  2. Protection from vaccines against some disease can wear off

    Some diseases like influenza (flu), pneumococcal disease are more common in adults. In some cases like diphtheria , the childhood vaccination protection can wear off over time. That’s why, vaccines for diseases like tetanus/diphtheria a booster is recommended every 10 years.

  3. Adults can be at risk for new and different disease

    In addition, adults can be at risk for new and different diseases owing to their age, lifestyle, job, health condition or travel plans. For instance, adults who work in health care settings are at risk for hepatitis B, adults with some chronic health conditions are at risk for pneumococcal disease and adults who are travelling internationally can be at risk of diseases we don’t see here in India such as yellow fever.

  4. Vaccination can help protect others too

    When you get vaccinated, you will help in protecting others by making it less likely that you will get a disease and spread it. This may also help protect those who cannot be vaccinated like people with some medical conditions and very young babies.

Recommended Vaccines for Adults

1. Flu Vaccine

Flu vaccine is administered as a shot (the most common type) or sometimes, as a nasal spray once a year. The vaccine is generally given in the flu season. All adults should get this vaccine, unless they have a medical reason not to.

2. Pneumococcal Vaccine

Pneumococcal vaccine is administered as a shot. There are two of these vaccines. For a healthy adult over 65, both vaccines are needed. The timing as well as the sequence of these vaccines depend on what vaccine you may have had earlier.

For people with long-lasting kidney failure or other conditions, doctors recommend another dose 5 years after the first.

This vaccine is generally recommended to all adults who are 65 and older. However, if you are younger than 64, you need this vaccine if you:

  1. Smoke
  2. Have Asthma
  3. Live in a long-term care facility or a nursing home
  4. Take medicines or treatment that makes you more prone for an infection. These include radiation therapy, steroids and some cancer drugs.
  5. Have long-term conditions like lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, a cochlear implant, cirrhosis, sickle cell disease, leaks of cerebrospinal fluid or alcoholism
  6. Have a disease that reduces your body’s defenses against infection, such as lymphoma or leukemia, kidney failure, AIDs, HIV and multiple myeloma

3. DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) Vaccine

A single shot of DTP, also called the Tdap vaccine, can protects against all three diseases. A shot of Td vaccine guards against tetanus and diphtheria. A one-time DTP vaccine, followed by a Td booster every 10 years is all you need to protect yourself from these three diseases. The vaccination has to be taken by:

  1. Adults up to the age 64 who have not had the DTP vaccine in the past 10 years or at all
  2. Pregnant women, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy
  3. People aged 65 and above who have not had the vaccine and will be in close contact with a child younger than 12 months
  4. Anyone who has not had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years and has already taken a DTP shot should get a Td vaccine.

Myths and facts About Adult Vaccination

MythFact
Vaccines are for kids and adults do not need any vaccineThe CDC recommends an immunization schedule for adults depending on their age as well as health conditions. Adults should discuss with their doctor about the potential risks of numerous diseases that can be prevented by taking vaccines
Vaccine is for very old peopleInfections like pneumonia, typhoid, hepatitis B can happen at any age and can be lethal. By getting vaccinated, you can avoid unnecessary suffering and protect yourself including your family from these deadly diseases
Healthy adults do not need vaccinesAn individual who is healthy and active may feel that he/she do not have a risk of vaccine-preventable diseases as they take good care of themselves. But, our immune system gets weakened continuously as we age. And, at the age of 65 or above, adults are at eight times greater risk for being hospitalized due to infections such as pneumococcal pneumonia than those who are younger than 50
Vaccinations are not effective in adultsAs per the CDC, vaccination is the most effective and the safest way to protect yourself from diseases. Vaccines go through years of vigorous research and testing before the FDA approves them to be used by doctors. Hence, there is no risk involved in getting vaccines from a doctor
If I was vaccinated in childhood, I do not need any vaccination in adulthoodYou may have had vaccinations done as a child. But, still some vaccines need a booster dose to offer you full protection against diseases. Besides, protection may not be life-long for diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough) or tetanus. In addition, there are some of the newer vaccines that are available right now. For example, it is recommended to get the flu shot once every year to reduce the risk and complications associated with it. The Td (Tetanus and Diphtheria) should also be taken once in every 10 years.
If I am healthy and if I am travelling, I do not need any vaccineThe chances of you getting infected increases while travelling to new places, no matter how healthy you are. You should consult with your doctor a few weeks before your travel and discuss what vaccines are needed before travelling. Health risks are greater in rural areas and developing countries because of differences in water sources, sanitary conditions and immunization coverage. The risk of getting infected depends on where you are travelling, the length of stay as well as your health and vaccine history. Most travellers may need measles, hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine. If you are travelling to South America or Africa, the yellow fever vaccine is recommended
Adults need only flu vaccineAdults require many more vaccines than just flu shot. The DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) vaccine is required for women during pregnancy and once for all adults who have not taken it earlier. Tetanus vaccine is needed once every 10 years. The chicken pox vaccine is recommended for all adults who have not had chicken pox or received the vaccination in childhood

The Bottom line Vaccines are recommended throughout your life (from childhood to older age) to prevent diseases and their sequel. Vaccines for adults can significantly reduce disease burden and mortality. The key is to talk to your doctor about adult vaccination and keep yourself fully immunized from various deadly diseases.

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