Immunizations Adult

For most adults in the United States, concerns about vaccination are usually confined to getting their annual flu vaccine or, if they become injured, receiving a tetanus shot in the emergency room. Recent world events, however, have brought the issue of when and why adults should be immunized to center stage.

Medical practitioners and researchers are examining what supplemental vaccinations should be offered and how they should be administered. In addition, scientists are actively working towards novel vaccines to protect against HIV, herpes, hepatitis C, and even certain forms of cancer.

Successful immunization programs for children have reduced both the incidence and severity of those diseases that are “vaccine preventable.” Ironically, these illnesses still occur at significant rates in adults. In response to this trend, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopted and approved a schedule for adult immunizations in February 2002.

Adult Vaccine Recommendations

Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccinations are routinely administered to all children in the United States. The recommendation, however, is that adults receive a tetanus shot “booster” every ten years after the age of eighteen in order to maintain full protection.

Influenza (“flu”) virus vaccination is recommended annually for individuals over the age of fifty, and for all adults suffering from chronic heart and/or lung disease, diabetes, kidney failure, or HIV. Other adults with high exposure to the flu virus, such as healthcare workers, workers in nursing homes and caregivers, should also be vaccinated.

Pneumonia vaccine, like the flu shot, is recommended for people over 65 years of age, the immunosuppressed, and other high-risk individuals. Pneumonia is one of the top five killer diseases of people 65 and older. The pneumonia vaccine also protects against meningitis, which is caused by the same bacteria that cause pneumonia.

Hepatitis A is recommended for people traveling to countries with a high prevalence of the disease, sexually active homosexual men, illicit drug users, individuals with liver disease, and others at risk for contracting the disease.

Hepatitis B is recommended for dialysis patients, healthcare workers, IV drug users, sexually promiscuous individuals, travelers to high-risk areas, and others at risk for contracting the disease.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is commonly thought to be a childhood disease and that it is not very common any more. But cases of whooping cough have been rising steadily in recent years, especially among adolescents and adults. In 2005, over half of the reported cases involved individuals over the age of 10.

Varicella (chicken pox) vaccination is recommended for all adults with no history of chickenpox or shingles.

Meningococcal vaccine should be considered for certain high-risk individuals such as those with immunological deficiencies following splenectomy (removal of the spleen) and for travelers to certain regions of Africa and the Middle East.

Future Vaccination Needs

Despite the impressive amount of progress that has been made in the field of vaccination and immunization, many infectious diseases still plague individuals for which no vaccine is available. Many novel vaccines are currently being tested in clinical trials. The hope is that breakthroughs will be made in the near future providing protection against such agents as HIV, oral and genital herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and hepatitis C, to name but a few.

The novel use of vaccines is even being applied towards future cancer treatment strategies. Studies are underway using parts of tumors as “vaccines.” The idea behind this approach is to stimulate the body’s immune response to fight against and help eradicate tumor cells from the body.