Adults Need Immunizations Too

Heading into the cooler and colder part of the year, doctors and other health professionals say it’s important for adults to keep their immunizations up to date. They say vaccines are not just for kids. Jim Bell reports.

Immunologist Dr. Patrick Carter of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinics in Houston says everyone — from children to young adults to senior citizens — needs to be immunized throughout their life. The problem, he says, is that many adults forget about immunizations because they believe — mistakenly — that the vaccines they got when they were children are still working for them.  Not true Carter says.

“I think most of us once we become adults, one thing we say is thank goodness I don’t need any more shots.  But unfortunately that’s really not the case.  Many of the immunizations we got as children, depending on our age, may no longer be effective, and you might need a booster, or there are other diseases more common in adults for which vaccinations are available and are recommended.”

Carter says the numbers are startling. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says every year, more than 40 thousand adults die of diseases vaccines could have prevented. Flu, or a chronic condition aggravated by flu, accounts for most of those deaths, but many might not have died if they’d gotten a flu shot. Why didn’t they get one?  Carter says most didn’t think they needed it.

“There definitely seems to be a sense of immortality among young adults, and many of us, as we get older, start to lose that for various reasons, but still there’s a lot of folks in their fifties, sixties and above, that if they feel okay, they really don’t feel like they need a shot to prevent something that they think is never gonna happen.”  

Carter says every person over 50 should get a flu shot every year, but he always encounters people who believe it will give them the flu. That’s not true he says, but a lot of people believe it, and that’s just one of the reasons flu and pneumonia together are the fifth leading cause of death in people 65 and older. Carter says people need to, once and for all, get over their aversions to vaccinations, stop believing they’ll live forever, and bring their immunizations up to date. 

“All you probably need to do is go ahead and see your doctor, and just mention to him or her, that you heard that adults need immunizations.  And physicians are usually pretty aware of what you’ll need. If you just go in and say ‘get me updated on all my immunizations’ that’s kind of a one-stop shopping and probably would take care of everything you need.”

Carter says there are more than a dozen common but serious diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Some can be deadly in older people, like meningococcal meningitis, diphtheria, flu, and tetanus, just to name several. Vaccinations are doubly important for parents and grandparents of small children, and anyone who has regular contact with children, like child care providers. It’s a two-way street. Children can transmit viruses to unvaccinated adults, and adults can transmit their own viruses to children. Something to think about. 

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.