Generally, when I write about vaccines, it’s about protecting children’s lives from vaccine preventable diseases. That itself is a noble goal for vaccines. But in case you didn’t know, there is also a CDC schedule for adult vaccines, which is as important to adults as they are to children.
Vaccines have one purpose – to protect us and those whom we love from potentially deadly and debilitating diseases. Many of us in the blogosphere have talked about the children’s schedule a lot, often to debunk claims of people who are ignorant of science, and think that the children’s vaccine schedule is causing undue harm. Yeah our intellectually deficient president, Donald Trump, thinks he knows more than the CDC, but that’s a problem shared by many vaccine deniers.
One adult vaccine I push regularly is the flu vaccine. It protects adults, pregnant women, the elderly, children, and healthy young adults from a severe infection that hospitalizes and kills more people every year than you’d think. Because flu is not really a serious disease, in some people’s minds, a lot of people decide that they don’t need the vaccine. They’d be wrong.
Just in case you were wondering, there is more to adult vaccines than just flu vaccines. There are several other vaccines indicated for adult use, including those adults with underlying health issues like diabetes, HIV and heart disease – unfortunately, the uptake for adult vaccines is depressingly low. Let’s take at the low uptake and the recommended adult vaccines schedule.
Uptake of adult vaccines
Unfortunately, in the most recent review of adult uptake of vaccines, the news is not good. Here are the CDC’s estimates of rates of uptake of adult vaccines during 2014:
- Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) – uptake is around 20% for adults older than 19 and above. Being protect against these diseases is important not only for the adult, but for children. For example, an adult can transmit the pertussis infection to children who have not been vaccinated or who have a less than optimal response to the vaccine. If I were a parent of a baby who had not yet been vaccinated against pertussis, I would be reluctant to expose her to adults who were not vaccinated recently.
- Herpes zoster (or shingles) vaccine – shingles is a serious, debilitating disease afflicting those who have had chickenpox in the past, maybe years earlier. The chickenpox virus, Varicella zoster, hides from the immune system after a bout of the disease, to show up decades later to cause a more serious disease. It is unknown what causes shingles to suddenly appear, but the only way to prevent it is to be vaccinated. Sadly, the herpes zoster vaccine uptake was around 27.9% for adults older than 60 years, putting elderly patients at risk of the infection.
- Flu vaccine – the coverage for the seasonal influenza vaccine was around 43.2% for adults aged 19 or older years. Considering the dangers of the flu, something that is dismissed by vaccine deniers everywhere, this rate is shockingly low.
- Pneumococcal vaccination – the coverage for this serious disease was only 20.3% for individuals 19-64 years and at high risk to the disease. This is a deadly disease, and coverage should be much higher. There was some slightly better news which showed that around 61.3% of adults aged over 65 years old were vaccinated, though it would be much better if the rate was >90%.
- Td (the tetanus-diphtheria only version of Tdap) vaccine – the uptake for adults aged 19 and older was 62.2%. It seems that physicians stress vaccinations against tetanus for anyone who has had a large cut, which keeps the coverage of the vaccine a bit higher than most.
- Hepatitis A vaccine – the uptake for this vaccine among adults 19 years or older was 9.)%, one of the worst uptakes for adult vaccines.
- Hepatitis B vaccine – uptake for adults aged 19 or older was 24.5%. Over 90% of adults with hepatitis B infection become chronically ill, and the disease is indicated in cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine – uptake among adults aged 19–26 years was 40.2% for females and 8.2% for males. Considering this vaccine (along with the hepatitis B vaccine) are two of the handful of actual, evidence-based, methods to reduce the risk of cancer, it’s upsetting that up take is so low. If you do nothing else with regards to the adult schedule for vaccines, get the HPV and hepatitis B vaccinations. Then, if you’re getting those two, get the rest of the vaccines.
But the news is worse. Predictably, adults without health insurance were significantly less likely than those with health insurance to get most vaccines. Of course, vaccination coverage is a part of Obamacare, so it’s possible the rate of vaccination will go up. But even among adults who had health insurance and access to healthcare 23.8-88.8% reported not receiving the recommended adult vaccinations. That’s just unacceptable.
CDC recommended adult vaccines schedule
The above are the schedules for adults by age and by health condition (full size chart, pdf) – I’m a solid pro-vaccine person, and I had no clue what vaccines were required for adults. In fact, recently I took this chart to my primary care physician, who seemed surprised by some of the vaccines on there (like I said, I was too, and I focus on this stuff). Since my health insurance explicitly covers all vaccines recommended by the CDC, I got caught up on Hep A and B, MMR, HiB, meningococcal and pneumococcal vaccines. Some of the recommended vaccines, like Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b), might be a surprising adult vaccine recommendation for many who follow vaccines.
My arm hurts, but so far, I’m still alive with no tail growing out of the top of my head. But I am a warrior against vaccine preventable diseases. Come at me pneumococcus…my immune system will kick your bacterial butt.
I know many of us spend much of our vaccine advocacy supporting the lives of children, by protecting them from vaccine preventable diseases. However, we should not ignore what we’re doing to save the lives of our adults. Vaccines are important for adults, not just to protect our lives from these diseases, but it also helps protect others who may not be vaccinated or who are more susceptible to a disease they might catch from you. Yes, you need to be protected against some childhood diseases like measles, which are making a comeback lately thanks to the anti-vaccine movement, because they can cause harm to you and your family.
Go get caught up on your adult vaccines. Because vaccines save lives. My physician gave me a lollipop afterwards, so I think it was worth it.
- Williams WW, Lu PJ, O’Halloran A, Kim DK, Grohskopf LA, Pilishvili T, Skoff TH, Nelson NP, Harpaz R, Markowitz LE, Rodriguez-Lainz A, Bridges CB; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Surveillance of Vaccination Coverage Among Adult Populations – United States, 2014. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2016 Feb 5;65(1):1-36. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.ss6501a1. PubMed PMID: 26844596.