Most adults probably remember going to the doctor as a child to have their “shots.” While painful at the time, those shots – or immunizations – helped prevent potentially serious diseases such as mumps, measles and polio that were widespread before vaccinations were successfully developed in the 1950s and 1960s.
Did you know that as adults, it’s just as important to receive recommended immunizations to stay healthy?
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to think about the immunizations that are most appropriate for you and discuss them with your health care provider.
Why is it important for adults to be vaccinated? There are many ways our bodies fight disease; one of the most important is triggered when the body is exposed to a virus. That’s when your immune system creates a defense strategy and a “memory” – or immunity – that can be used to fight off the disease in the future.
Vaccination allows the body to create that memory without actually acquiring the disease. A vaccine injects dead cells or modified live cells from the virus into the body. Your immune system reacts by building an immunity to fight the disease. This reaction is stored in the immune system’s memory, and if or when the disease actually strikes, your body is better equipped to fight it.
One of the most common vaccinations is the annual flu vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone over the age of six months is recommended to receive an annual flu vaccine, especially the young, the elderly and those with chronic health issues or weakened immune systems.
In addition to the flu vaccine, there are a number of other immunizations that are recommended by the CDC for teens to seniors.
Parents of teenagers and young adults should ask their physician about booster shots for the immunizations their children received as youngsters, as well as a meningitis shot and the annual flu vaccine. Booster shots are important because as we age, the protection of childhood vaccines might actually start to wear off.
Once we reach adulthood, we should receive the “Tdap” vaccine once, then a booster vaccine every 10 years according to the CDC. The Tdap vaccine helps protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), all of which can lead to serious medical problems and even death.
Additional vaccines recommended by the CDC include two doses of the Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and one or two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine over the course of adulthood. Ask your health care provider about the best times to receive these vaccines, especially if you are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, have kidney, spleen, heart or liver disease, or diabetes.
Adults with certain risk factors related to their health, job or lifestyle should also speak to their health care provider about receiving the pneumococcal, meningococcal and hepatitis A and B vaccines.
Seniors should consider, along with the flu vaccine, vaccines for pneumonia, tetanus and shingles. Those who are parents or grandparents, or who have regular contact with children, should also receive booster shots for some childhood diseases such as whooping cough, since infected adults can pass the disease along to infants and young children who can develop life-threatening problems. Finally, anyone planning to travel to a foreign country should ask their physician about what vaccines might be appropriate prior to their trip.
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield joins with the rest of the health care community in encouraging individuals to receive the recommended immunizations that will help keep them – and our entire community – healthy. In fact, our Blue Health Solutions wellness program in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania offers access to personalized health coaches who can help members stay on track with recommended immunizations.
During this National Immunization Awareness Month, help spread the word that to stay healthy, stay immunized!
For more information about immunizations and vaccines, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
Dr. John Viteritti is an emergency room physician and medical director for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. For information, visit www.highmarkbcbs.com.