An Ounce of Prevention

October 01, 2012

Vaccines aren’t just for kids. Adult immunizations protect against painful, dangerous diseases, such as shingles, pneumonia and even cervical cancer.

So why don’t more adults get them?

“People start getting complacent,” says Paul Murata, M.D., MSPH, chief medical officer for Providence Medical Group, one of the medical groups affiliated with Providence Medical Institute. “in LA County in 2010, there was a huge rise in pertussis (whooping cough) because people stopped getting immunized.” Similarly in Japan in the mid-1970s, pertussis vaccinations plummeted and by 1979, 13,000 cases developed, with 41 deaths.

So, which vaccines do adults need/ Dr. Murata discusses three broad categories.

  • Childhood Carry-over Vaccines

Newer vaccines were not available when some adults were children. In other cases, immunity fades or perhaps you weren’t immunized at all. Talk to your doctor about the the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), varivax (chickenpox), Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and meningococcal vaccines.

  • HPV Vaccines

While the first dose can be administered to girls at age 12 or 13, the vaccine can be given up to age 26 and can prevent against cervical cancer later in adulthood.

  • The ‘Big Four’

Adults should be current on: influenza (annually), tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis or “Tdap” (once, followed by the regular tetanus/diphtheria booster every 10 years), shingles (single dose at age 60) and the pheumococcal vaccine (one or two doses in adulthood if at high risk, otherwise a single dose at age 65). If you have never had chickenpox, consider getting a varivax immunization.

“Influenza and pneumonia are both upper respiratory infections that kill many people every year - especially the chronically ill with compromised immune systems,” Dr. Murata says. “These are clearly vaccines where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

When to Get Your Shots

Providence Medical Institute clinic family medicine physician Steve Yi, M.D., says annual physicals are a great time to discuss immunizations with your doctor. “We want to prevent serious illness. Part of that is making sure vaccinations are up to date,” he says.

In the end, Dr. Yi says, adult immunizations can prevent infections, pain, some cancers and – in the most serious cases – death. “If you can prevent to your doctor about these things,” he asks, “why not do it?”