You never outgrow your need to be vaccinated. No matter what your age, there are recommended vaccines to help keep you, your family, and your community safe. Each year, 50,000 people in the U.S. are dying from vaccine-preventable diseases — that’s more deaths than those caused by AIDS, breast cancer, and traffic accidents combined!
Vaccines prevent dangerous or deadly diseases that can spread from person-to-person. Some people, such as older adults, unvaccinated children, people with chronic illnesses, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Before a vaccine was available, 3.5 million Americans got measles each year, 100,000 were hospitalized and 3,000 to 5,000 died. At least 152 cases of measles have been diagnosed in the U.S. so far this year — twice the number seen in a typical year and the biggest outbreak in 15 years. Half of these patients have had to be hospitalized.
Today, children are vaccinated against 14 diseases.
These include vaccines against Hepatitis B, Rotavirus, Diphtheria Tetanus and Pertussis (DPT), Haemophilus Influenza type b, Pneumococcal, inactivated polio virus, influenza, Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR), Varicella (chickenpox), Hepatitis A and Meningococcal. And doctors recommend that children who are 11 years old get vaccinated for meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection that can lead to meningitis.
There is now a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer!
Human Papilloma virus also known as HPV, is a very common virus that is spread through sexual contact. It is most common in people in their teens and early 20s. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause cervical cancer in women. Each year about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 4,000 women die from it in the U.S.
HPV vaccine is recommended for girls at ages 11 and 12. Preteens and teens should get all 3 doses of an HPV vaccine before their first sexual contact (before they could be exposed to HPV). If a teenager or young adult has not gotten any or all of the HPV shots when they were younger, they should ask their doctor about getting them now.
Nearly 40% of parents say they have deliberately skipped or delayed a shot for their children.
Vaccines are one of the most controversial topics among parents these days, with a growing number questioning whether to give their kids recommended shots. There are now outbreaks of diseases like mumps, measles, and whooping cough that were once nearly eliminated by vaccination. This is not only dangerous to the child, but it can be spread to other family members, friends, and the rest of the community. Much of the anxiety about vaccines is based on myths and fear, rather than facts. Let’s try to separate the myths from the facts:
You’re never too old to get vaccinated.
If you were vaccinated as a child, some of the protection from the vaccines can decrease over time. Plus, there are vaccines now available that may not have been available when you were a child. It’s never too late to get vaccinated. Even if you are behind on your vaccines or were not vaccinated as a child, your healthcare provider can help get you back on track. The following diseases are especially serious in adults 65 years old or older: flu (influenza), diphtheria, herpes zoster (shingles), pneumococcus and tetanus (lockjaw). All of them can be prevented by vaccines.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about your immunization history. It’s also a good idea to check if you need additional vaccines whenever you plan to travel outside the U.S. In fact the CDC recommends that adults get a measles shot if they only had one as a child if they are traveling abroad.
Newborns are particularly vulnerable to many vaccine-preventable diseases but are too young to be vaccinated against most of them. Adults who will be around newborns should take special care to keep up with their vaccines so they do not pass a vaccine-preventable disease to the unprotected baby. Pertussis (whooping cough) and the flu are two of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases that infected adults can pass to a baby.
It is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it. So get vaccinated! Vaccines prevent infectious disease in the people who receive them and protect those who come into contact with unvaccinated individuals. Disease prevention is the key to public health!
Jeff Kreisberg is a patient advocate, educator, scientist author of the book “Taking Control of Your Healthcare,” and, until his retirement, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas. Jeff also blogs regularly on health issues on his website, Taking Control of Your Healthcare. Follow him on Twitter: @kreisberg.
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