Immunizations Are Not Just for Kids
Jun 12, 2012

After losing his own child to pertussis, Darryl Dube now knows the importance of adult Tdap boosters.

As a young child I could always depend on my parents to look after me.  Now, as a parent myself, I continually model my own upbringing and do all I can to look after my own children.  But my mother will always be my mother, no matter how old I get and even now she reminds me to take care of myself.  Over the years I’ve realized that as a parent it is possible to be so focused on the needs of your children, that you can fail to take care of your own health.  In the case of immunizations, adults may keep their kids up to date on their recommended vaccines, but at the same time fail to consider the adult immunization recommendations for themselves.
In a recent contribution to the Huffington Post, Dr. William Shaffner explains just how critical adult immunizations are:

Vaccine-preventable diseases kill more than 50,000 U.S. adults annually. That’s more than the number of adults who die each year from either breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, or motor vehicle traffic accidents. Just two vaccine-preventable diseases, influenza and pneumococcal disease, cost society tens of billions of dollars every year in direct and indirect costs — human suffering and financial burdens that could be significantly reduced through vaccination.

The adult death statistics are alarming, which is why I was pleased when Dr. Shaffner went on to explain the following:

Recognizing the need for a national campaign developed specifically to address adult vaccination issues, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), in partnership with leading medical experts and national health organizations, recently launched the Campaign for Adult Immunization at the inaugural National Adult Immunization Summit held in Atlanta, GA.

Clearly, if we want to hep prevent unnecessary adult deaths, than we need to help adults realize that they are at risk and encourage them to prevent illness with immunization.
A look at the latest immunization news reveals just how critical adult immunizations can be.
Adults Get Around    
The way people travel so extensively these days has caused public health to go global.  Wherever we live, we have to recognize that diseases just can’t be contained within a country’s borders.  Consider the recent report of a woman who returned to the U.S. from India, only to expose people in four different communities to measles. Unfortunately, as European countries experience outbreaks of measles, we are left wondering what will the summer Olympics bring?  Most likely travelers who may not be up to date on their immunizations.  In these situations, when an adult returns to the US with an infectious disease, infant children who have not yet received all their immunizations are at risk, as well as pregnant women, immune compromised individuals and adults who are unknowingly under immunized or even unvaccinated.
Once May Not Be Enough:
In the case of measles, sometimes one shot is not enough.  While the MMR vaccine has been shown to provide long-term immunity, it has also been determined that 2-5% of recipients do not respond to the first dose.  However, when given a second dose, 99% of recipients develop evidence of immunity.  This is why the two dose vaccine is currently recommended.  But how many adults are fully aware of their complete immunization history?  It’s entirely possible that adults are unknowingly under immunized.
The same can be said for another contagious disease known as pertussis, or whooping cough.  New recommendations suggest that most everyone be immunized, to include an infant’s initial five dose series of DTaP, adolescent and adult Tdap boosters, as well as boosters for pregnant women and those over 65 who will have close contact with infants.
Unfortunately, there are several states currently experiencing pertussis epidemics.  For example, in WA state where there have been over 2,000 cases reported so far in 2012, compared to 154 in the same period last year.  But even in states that don’t have an identified outbreak, pertussis is still circulating in the community.  Consider recent reports of a student in NY, a rise in cases in NJ, an increase of diagnosis in ME, concerns in Oregon and Idaho and many other states as well.  While being vaccinated is your best protection, this particular vaccine doesn’t provide life-long immunity and studies suggest that the immunity may wane in as little as 5-10  years.  However, it should be mentioned that even if someone has contracted the disease, they are not provided life-long immunity either.  Additionally, while most people will produce the proper immune response after vaccination, there will always be some people who may still fall ill.  Unfortunately, while the DTaP vaccine is 95% effective in preventing diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, it is only about 59-89% effective in preventing pertussis only.  This is by no means an excuse not to be vaccinated, but rather illustrates how persistent pertussis is.  While pertussis occasionally occurs in vaccinated individuals, it is typically less severe with fewer complications than in those who were not vaccinated at all. Considering how dangerous pertussis can be, especially to infants, vaccination, even at a 59-89% effectiveness remains the best way to prevent disease and dangerous complications.
To learn more about the Campaign for Adult Immunizations, check out their complete list of resources on their new website.  Hopefully, this is just one more step towards educating adults about their immunization needs and preventing disease throughout the life span.

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