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Adult Immunizations

Updated on July 13, 2017
MC DeGroffDavis profile image

M.C. DeGroff-Davis earned her MD from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at Shreveport.

You Are Never Too Old

If you think immunizations are just for babies and children, you couldn’t be more wrong. Immunizations, inoculations, or vaccinations, all of which are interchangeable terms, wear off after time. Your immune system has limited memory and needs reminders, or booster shots, after a period of time to properly fend off diseases like diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and influenza (the flu).

Some vaccines are new, such as the one for human papilloma virus, which means it wouldn't have been available many years ago.

Another reason you may need to get your immunizations is you simply never received them, for whatever reason, as a child. If you don’t get vaccinated, the chances you will become infected—and infectious—increase alarmingly.

Which Vaccines Do Adults Need and When?

After age 19, the flu vaccine and the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) immunizations are necessary for everyone. The flu shot is needed yearly, while you only need the Tdap booster once a decade (and with every pregnancy).

Other vaccines, such as the pneumonia, human papilloma virus (HPV), and hepatitis A and B immunizations, are highly recommended according to the CDC, and those like Japanese encephalitis, polio, and rabies vaccines are necessary only in certain situations..

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approves immunizations recommended for those living in the United States. The American Academy of Family Practitioners (AAFP), the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American College of Physicians (ACP) also approve the adult immunization schedule before it is implemented.

The following are immunization preventable diseases:

  • Chickenpox - caused by the Varicella zoster virus. It can re-emerge later in life as the very painful shingles.

  • Diphtheria - causes problems because the infectious bacteria, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, produces toxins which can cause lung problems, heart failure, and comas.

  • Flu (Influenza) - caused by different RNA viruses; infection can lead to serious complications requiring hospitalization

  • Hepatitis A - due to liver infection by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV); causes yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice); can be transmitted in fecal matter

  • Hepatitis B - from liver infection with the Hepatitis B virus (HBV); causes non-specific aches and complaints in addition to jaundice; transmitted through bodily fluids (blood, breast milk, semen)

  • HPV - caused by infection with the Human Papilloma Virus; can cause anal and genital warts in both men and women and cervical cancer in women; some types of HPV can cause cancers in the anus, back of the throat (oropharynx), and penis

  • Measles (Rubeola) - due to infection with the rubeola virus; can be contagious for four days before symptoms show; may cause seizures, brain damage, and even death

  • Meningococcal Disease - Neisseria meningitidis is the bacterium which causes this disease; ten percent mortality rate; the survivors often lose limbs, are deaf, have strokes, or are mentally impaired

  • Mumps - caused by an infection with the mumps virus; can cause brain inflammation (encephalitis); permanent hearing loss; meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord); and testicular swelling (which can lead to permanent sterility)

  • Pertussis (whooping cough) - caused by Bordetella pertussis which sticks to upper respiratory tract linings and releases its toxins causing extended coughing and choking episodes; most severe for babies (may cause hospitalizations or death) who get disease from adults (caregiver or relative)

  • Pneumococcal Disease - the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae causes generally mild upper respiratory infections; when it spreads to other parts of the body or into the bloodstream, it can cause brain damage or limb loss

  • Rubella (German measles) - due to the rubella virus; usually causes a mild infection, but can cause encephalitis; if a woman gets infected when pregnant, it can lead to miscarriages or birth abnormalities such as heart defects, loss of sight or hearing, and/or mental retardation

  • Shingles (Zoster) - as stated previously, it is caused by the V. zoster virus which can lie dormant for years in nerves; when it is reactivated it can cause very painful skin rashes and scabs, headaches, upset stomachs, and even vision loss

  • Tetanus - the long-living spores of the bacteria Clostridium tetani (found almost everywhere - dust, animal feces, soil) are the source; bacteria produce toxins which cause painful muscle spasms and rigidity, stiffness, and “lock-jaw”; has a thirty percent mortality rate

Certain groups of people may require different vaccines (or additional vaccines). Here are just some groups with immunization recommendations:

  • Pregnant women: For every pregnancy you will be required to get a Tdap shot and, during the flu season (typically October through May), a flu shot; always talk to your Ob/Gyn before getting any immunization

  • International travelers: Each country has its own immunization requirements; make sure you and with whomever you travel are up to date (For example, if you are traveling to Afghanistan, in addition to the above listed vaccines, you will also minimally need to get immunized against polio and typhus, while if you are planning to visit Nigeria in addition to the above list and the polio vaccine, you will also at least need to get the yellow fever and malaria vaccines)

  • Immigrants and Refugees: the current criteria for all those coming to the United States is pretty lengthy

Aren't Vaccines Dangerous?

The health scare about vaccines isn’t founded in sound medical research. The doctor who reported immunizations cause autism was not only discredited but his medical license was revoked. Other accusations of immunizations causing conditions or diseases like Gulf War Syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and/or Parkinson’s disease have no reliable data to support them. Overwhelming evidence consistently demonstrates benefits of being immunized far outweigh the risks.

Are Vaccines Safe for Everyone?

The answer to this question is “no." Vaccines do have side effects. If any of the following apply, use caution before any vaccination:

  • History of severe allergic reaction to the vaccine or vaccine components

  • Impaired immune system (cancer, post transplant, HIV positive status)

  • Nursing mothers, anyone planning to become pregnant in the next 6 weeks, and pregnant women (for the last group, the Tdap vaccine is the exception)

Additionally, each individual immunization comes with its own caveats (as with any medical treatment). Lastly, always consult a qualified practitioner before undergoing any medical treatment.

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