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Vaccinations Aren’t Just for Kids

August Is National Immunization Awareness Month

The need for vaccines does not go away with age. In fact, board-certified infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Pomilla of the Calvert Internal Medicine Group says vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways for adults to maintain personal health. Here, he answers some of the most frequently asked questions about vaccinations:

Q. Why are vaccines important for adults?

Vaccines not only help prevent diseases children are susceptible to but those adults may be prone to, as well. Without question, they (vaccines) have had the greatest positive impact on public health worldwide.

Q. What are some reasons why adults need vaccines?

Just as children may have weak immune systems that are not yet fully developed, older adults may have their immune systems weaken over time, or be on medications that weaken the immune system as a side-effect. Also, the effectiveness of some childhood vaccines can decrease over time, necessitating a booster dose as an adult.

Q. Which ones do we need to get?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccine and meningitis for certain young adults (26 years and younger). The shingles vaccine is recommended for adults 50 and older and the pneumonia two-shot series beginning at age 65 (earlier, if certain health conditions exist like diabetes). A yearly flu shot is recommended for all adults. Finally, the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough) vaccine is recommended for women during each pregnancy and once for all adults who have not previously received it. After that, you will need a Td booster every 10 years.

Q. Where can you get vaccinated?

Your primary care provider most likely will have the majority of the vaccinations you require. Other convenient places include area pharmacies, some employers and the local health department.

Q. When is the best time to get your flu shot?

By getting it in the early fall, you are protected for the entire flu season. The reason a new flu shot is needed each year is not that the old one has worn out, but that it will not be effective against the next year’s strain of flu. By the way, researchers are working on a once-in-a-lifetime flu shot – but until that is available, it is important to get your flu shot every year!

Q. How safe are vaccines?

Most people get no significant side effects from a vaccine, aside from a mildly sore arm for a day or two. Some may get a low-grade fever or mild rash. More serious side effects are very uncommon. It should also be noted studies have shown there is no link between autism and vaccines or vaccine ingredients.

Q. Why is it important to talk with your healthcare provider about which vaccines you need?

A primary care provider who is familiar with all your medical problems is in a particularly good position to recommend the vaccines you need. During a general medical exam is a good time to discuss it, but you can bring it up at any visit.

Q. Is it OK to repeat a vaccine if you cannot find the record?

Try to keep up-to-date vaccination records for yourself and your children but if it is uncertain whether you have previously received a recommended vaccine, it is safe to repeat the vaccine.

Q. Do adults with certain health conditions need additional vaccines?

Yes, for example someone without a functional spleen (which helps fight infection) should get meningitis vaccines, a Hib (hemophilus type B) vaccine, and more frequent pneumonia vaccines. Many experts and colleges recommend, meningitis vaccines for students living in dorms. Travelers to certain destinations may require vaccinations against typhoid or yellow fever or Japanese encephalitis virus.

Q. Do I need another MMR vaccine?

The recent measles outbreak, although thus far limited to fewer than 1,000 people nationwide, highlights the risks of remaining un-vaccinated. Those born before 1957 are generally protected and do not need to be re-vaccinated. Those born later who don’t have any evidence of immunity should receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Two doses (the second one at least a month after the first) are recommended for those at highest risk – college students, international travelers and healthcare workers.

The CDC website and your primary care provider can provide additional information.
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