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Answers to Your Most Common Questions about Adult Vaccines

In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM16), we will be discussing the importance of vaccines throughout the lifespan.  This week, our focus is on adult vaccines and the information below are responses the CDC has offered to some of the most common questions they receive on this topic.  NIAM_fb_timeline_adults

Why do adults need vaccines? 

Vaccines are recommended throughout your life. Even if you were fully vaccinated as a child, you may be at risk for other diseases due to your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health condition. In addition, the protection from some vaccines can wear off over time. All adults need vaccinations to protect against serious diseases that could result in severe illness requiring medical treatment or even hospitalization, missed work, and not being able to care for family.

Are vaccine-preventable diseases really a threat for adults? 

Every year, thousands of adults in the U.S. suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, and even die from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. Many of these diseases are common in the U.S. For example, in 2014, there were about 27,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease and 3,200 deaths among adults ages 19 and older. In addition, about 1 million cases of shingles and millions of cases of influenza occur each year in the U.S.

Older adults and adults with chronic health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and diabetes are at higher risk of suffering complications from certain vaccine-preventable diseases like flu and pneumonia.

What vaccines do adults need? How often and when do they need them? 

btn-adultquiz-plain-160x600The vaccines a person needs are based on their age, medical conditions, occupation, vaccines they have received in the past, and other factors. Taking the CDC adult vaccine quiz is one way to find out which vaccines you might need. 

All persons 6 months of age and older are recommended to get the flu vaccine every year, with rare exception. Flu vaccination is especially important for those who are at high risk of serious flu-related complications, including adults 65 years and older, pregnant women and people with certain chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. Also vaccination of caregivers of high risk persons is especially important to protect those who are at high risk.

Getting vaccinated against the flu while pregnant during any trimester decreases the risk of flu and flu-related illnesses for the mother and developing baby throughout the pregnancy and can protect the baby for several months after birth. This protection is crucial since children younger than 6 months old are too young to receive their own flu vaccine, and are at high risk of severe illness from flu.

All adults should get a one-time dose of Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) if they did not receive this vaccine as a preteen or teen. Whooping cough has been on the rise in recent years, and can be very serious, and even deadly for babies. All adults should receive a Td booster every 10 years to protect against tetanus and diphtheria. These two diseases are uncommon now because of vaccines, but they can be very serious.

Women are recommended to get a Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of every pregnancy to help protect themselves and their newborn babies against whooping cough. They should get Tdap during pregnancy even if they have had a prior Tdap shot.

Other vaccines you need as an adult are determined by factors such as age, lifestyle, job, health condition, and vaccines you’ve received in the past. Vaccines that may be recommended for you are vaccines that protect against shingles, pneumococcal disease, human papillomavirus (which can cause certain cancers), meningococcal disease, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

If you’re traveling abroad, you may need additional vaccines. Check the CDC travel website for more information on what you should do to prepare for travel based on where you are traveling.

Why haven’t I heard about adult vaccines before now?  

Many of the vaccines recommended for adults have been around for years. However, we’re hearing more about certain vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, because of outbreaks in the United States. For instance, every year unvaccinated travelers get measles while abroad and bring the disease into the United States. They can spread the disease to other people who are not protected against measles, which sometimes leads to outbreaks. This can occur in communities with unvaccinated people, including unvaccinated adults.

One reason we’re hearing more about Tdap vaccine is due to the recent increase in whooping cough over the past few years. More than 18,000 cases were reported provisionally in the United States in 2015. We have learned that protection from the whooping cough vaccine given to children doesn’t last into adulthood so it is recommended that teens and adults get a Tdap booster.  The CDC also recommends that women get Tdap during the third trimester of EACH pregnancy to give their babies short-term protection from whooping cough when the babies are too young to be immunized.

 What are potential risks from adult vaccines? 

Side effects from vaccines are usually mild and temporary, such as soreness where the shot was given or a slight fever that goes away within a few days. Some people may have allergic reactions to certain vaccines, but serious and long-term effects are rare. However, the benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks.

Anyone who gets a vaccine should be fully informed about both the benefits and the risks of vaccination. Any questions or concerns should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Are adult vaccines safe? 

Yes. The longstanding vaccine safety system in the U.S. ensures that vaccines are very safe. Safety monitoring begins with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which ensures the safety, and effectiveness of vaccines for the United States. Before a vaccine is approved by the FDA to be used by the public, the results of studies on safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are evaluated by highly trained FDA scientists and doctors. The FDA also inspects the sites where vaccines are manufactured to make sure they follow strict manufacturing guidelines. The FDA and CDC even continue to monitor vaccines after licensing to ensure continued safety of the vaccines in the U.S.

Are vaccines safe for people with certain health conditions or people who take prescription medications? 

iStock_000024363383_Double.jpgFor people with certain chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, it is even more important to be up to date on vaccines because they are at increased risk for complications from certain vaccine-preventable diseases like flu and pneumonia. For instance, diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight infections. Additionally, flu illness can make it harder for someone with diabetes to control their blood sugars. These complications put people with diabetes at higher risk of flu-related complications, including illness that can result in hospitalization. That’s why it’s especially important for people with diabetes and certain other high risk factors to get the flu vaccine every year.

It is safe for people who are taking prescription medications to get vaccines. There are, however, other factors that may make it unsafe for some people to get certain vaccines, such as allergy to a vaccine or a certain vaccine ingredient. And live vaccines should not be given to people with weakened immune systems or to pregnant women. Talk to your health care professional to determine which vaccines are recommended for you.

How well do adult vaccines work? 

The amount of protection from vaccination varies by vaccine and each person’s age and health. Vaccines generally work better when given to younger, healthier people, but immunization is the best defense against many serious, and sometimes deadly, diseases. If you’ve been vaccinated and become ill with the disease after having developed immunity from the vaccine, your illness may be less severe than if you had not been vaccinated.

Will health insurance help pay for vaccines? 

All Health Insurance Marketplace plans and most other private insurance plans must cover the following list of vaccines without charging a copayment or coinsurance when provided by an in-network provider:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Shingles
  • Human Papillomavirus
  • Influenza
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella
  • Meningococcal
  • Pneumococcal
  • Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis
  • Chickenpox

Check with your health insurance provider for details. Make sure to ask them which providers you can go to for vaccinations.

Medicare Part B will pay for the following vaccines:

  • Influenza (flu) vaccine
  • Pneumococcal vaccines
  • Hepatitis B vaccines for persons at increased risk of hepatitis
  • Vaccines directly related to the treatment of an injury or direct exposure to a disease or condition, such as rabies and tetanus

Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage Plan Part C that offers Medicare prescription drug coverage may also have partial or full coverage for other vaccines, including:

  • Shingles vaccine
  • MMR vaccine
  • Td and Tdap vaccines
  • Hepatitis A

Most state Medicaid agencies cover at least some adult immunizations but may not offer all vaccines. Check with your state Medicaid agency for more information. Talk to your part C part D plans to find out what your out-of-pocket costs might be for immunizations.

Where can I get vaccines? 

Vaccines may be available at private doctor offices, pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics, health departments, or other community locations such as schools and religious centers. There is an online tool to help you find immunization providers near you: http://vaccine.healthmap.org.

You also can contact your state or local health department to learn more about where to get vaccines in your community. If your healthcare professional does not stock all the vaccines recommended for you, ask for a referral.

Why aren’t adults getting their recommended vaccines? 

Many adults don’t realize they need vaccines to protect against diseases like whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, or pneumococcal disease. Even for those who do realize they need additional vaccines, there are challenges to staying up-to-date. As adults, we tend to worry about day-to-day things and are busy caring for our families, so we don’t often think about preventive measures that can help keep us healthy. That’s why it’s so critical for clinicians to strongly recommend the vaccines that patients need. It’s also important for clinicians to refer patients to providers in the area for vaccines they don’t stock.

Cost may be an issue for some adults. However, most private health insurance covers routinely recommended vaccines. Those eligible for Medicare and Medicaid also have coverage for certain vaccines.

What’s the bottom line? What should people know about adult vaccinations? 

Adults who aren’t up-to-date on their vaccines are at greater risk of getting and spreading certain vaccine-preventable diseases. It is especially important for older adults and those with chronic health conditions to get vaccinated because they are at increased risk for complications from diseases. CDC encourages all adults to talk to their healthcare professional about which vaccines are right for them – and get vaccinated.

Follow our #NIAM16 discussion topics on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page and @ShotofPrev Twitter account throughout the month, and subscribe to this blog to receive an email notification when our next #NIAM16 blog is posted.  Later this week  we will hear from the Texas Immunization Partnership about the successes and challenges of adult vaccination in the state of Texas as part of our #StateoftheImmUnion report, so check back for more timely immunization news.

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