Remember when you were a kid and every trip to the doctor was dominated by one question: "Will I have to get a shot?" As an adult, the need for vaccines may not even cross your mind--and it may even slip your doctor's mind, too--but incidents like the recent outbreak of measles at Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis remind us that adults are vulnerable to serious, preventable infections and should be inoculated.
This month, The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has released its updated 2012 recommendations regarding vaccinations for adults, summarized here:
More detailed information about the recommendations can be found here.
Every year ACIP tweaks the recommendations a bit. For example, new this year: young men should be vaccinated against HPV, diabetics under 60 should be vaccinated against hepatitis B, and women should be vaccinated against pertussis (whopping cough) after the 20th week of pregnancy. Zostavax (the shingles vaccine) is now FDA-approved for people over 50, but the ACIP continues to recommend it for people over 60.
If vaccines are safe and effective against potentially fatal diseases such as measles, meningitis, and influenza, then why are adult vaccination rates so low (especially compared with rates among children)? There are many reasons, including the fact that these vaccines are usually not compulsory in adults (as they are in children attending school), that adults may not be aware that if they haven't been vaccinated or if their immunity has waned they are susceptible to these diseases, and that misconceptions about vaccines abound.
The main reason the adult population is underprotected against preventable diseases, though, is lack of health insurance. Economic and racial disparities in vaccination rates are wide. Older Hispanic and African-American people are less likely to be vaccinated against influenza than their white counterparts--especially concerning because thousands of older Americans die from influenza annually.
When it comes to preventing many serious infectious diseases in adults we have the scientific know-how, and the personnel to administer it. What we need is a better informed public--and a fairer system.
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