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Adult vaccinations emerge as a top priority in preventive care Posted: December 15th, 2010

By Clare Kaufman

Vaccines can offer a simple first-line defense against many common infectious diseases. Yet many adults in the U.S. fail to take advantage of these widely available immunization treatments. Public health officials blame a lack of awareness about adult vaccination for this alarming trend. With more and more health insurance plans extending full coverage for vaccines, you should include this crucial element in your preventive care regimen.

The value of vaccines

Vaccination is a standard feature of pediatric care, but few people follow through with the necessary booster shots and vaccinations through adulthood. In a February 2010 report, "Adult Immunization: Shots to Save Lives," the Trust for America's Health finds that only 2.1 percent of adults are up to date on their tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough immunizations. Nearly one-third of seniors remain exposed to pneumonia, a common and potentially deadly complication of the flu. Additionally, only 10 percent of young women are vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), the culprit behind 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

The resistance to adult vaccination brings grave public health consequences. The report blames the failure to vaccinate for "an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 preventable deaths, thousands of preventable illnesses and $10 billion in preventable health care costs each year." Media coverage may have raised flu vaccination levels to nearly 60 percent in adults over 40, according to the CDC, but other routine and recommended vaccines have yet to gain the same traction among the general public.

CDC recommendations for adult vaccination

Lack of public awareness is the primary hurdle to adult immunization. According to a 2007 survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, 40 percent of respondents believe that adults who received immunizations as a child do not need new vaccinations, and 18 percent believe adults do not need vaccinations at all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend that adults seek immunization against fourteen diseases.

All adults should be vaccinated against:

  • Influenza (once a year, preferably in fall months before the start of flu season)
  • Tetanus and Diptheria (Td) (3 vaccinations over a lifetime, and booster shots every ten years)
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) (adults born after 1957)

International travelers may need to add the following vaccinations, depending on their destination:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Meningococcal
  • Yellow Fever

Seniors over age 65 require the following additional vaccinations:

  • Pneumococcal
  • Zoster (shingles)

Young adults may need:

  • Meningococcal (if living in group settings)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) (women under age 26)

In addition, adults at risk of Varicella (chickenpox) or Hepatitis B can protect themselves from these conditions through vaccination. Smokers and other adults with certain chronic medical conditions may need the Pneumococcal vaccine. Consult your health care provider for more guidance on recommended immunizations.

Access to immunization

Adult vaccination is an important facet of preventive care. In recognition of its importance, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to provide full coverage for the CDC's schedule of recommended vaccines. However, this new requirement, which went into effect September 23, 2010, applies only to new or substantially renegotiated medical insurance plans. Your individual or group health insurance plan may require some copayments or cost-sharing for vaccines. If cost is a factor, look to community health groups, local pharmacies or your employer for more affordable immunization options.

Adult vaccinations have both a personal and social benefit: they protect you from contracting an infectious disease and prevent the spread of disease in your community. With health care reform extending access to immunizations, the time is right to add regular vaccination to your preventive care regimen.