Often adults assume that the vaccines they received as children will protect them for the rest of their lives. While this may be true for some diseases, there are several reasons to review your immunization record with your doctor.
First, some adults were never vaccinated as children. Depending on your age, you may have missed the many modern vaccines now routinely available for children. Vaccine recommendations for adults are based on a variety of factors including age, overall health status, and medical history. If you were born before 1957 you can consider yourself immune to measles and mumps, simply because you probably had the diseases or were exposed to the natural viruses and developed immunity.
Those born between 1963 and 1967 who were vaccinated with an unknown type of measles vaccine may need a booster shot. Women of child-bearing age, regardless of birth year, should determine their immunity to rubella before becoming pregnant. Rubella is known to cause birth defects if the disease is active when a woman is pregnant.
Today’s Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against all three diseases. Second, immunity to some diseases can begin to fade over time, even if you received a vaccination. This is the case with tetanus. Tetanus is a serious disease caused by bacteria found in dust, soil and manure. While many people think you get tetanus from stepping on a rusty nail, this is only one of the many wounds that can lead to a tetanus infection. Others include body piercings, cuts and lacerations, animal bites, tattoos, splinters, and even injection drug use. Adults should receive a tetanus vaccination every 10 years. And, as people age, they become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections such as influenza and pneumonia.
Adults over age 50 should plan to have an influenza vaccination every fall. One reason is simply that the influenza virus changes each year so re-vaccination is necessary for adequate protection. But the other is that the disease can be more severe in older people because they take longer to recover.
The newest vaccine for adults age 50 and older is the Shingles vaccine. Anyone who has suffered through a case of childhood chicken pox has that virus lying dormant in their body. It can reappear in adults as Shingles, a painful rash that can last for weeks and lead to many serious complications.
Adults over age 65 should receive a pneumcoccal vaccine to protect themselves from one form of pneumonia. This is a one-time vaccination that should provide protection for life.
Finally, if you travel, be sure to investigate the types of disease you may encounter and discuss with your physician the proper steps to take for immunity.
Preventing diseases through immunization has been called one of the greatest health benefits developed in the last 50 years. Modern vaccines are among the safest medicines available today and are necessary regardless of your age, gender, race, ethnic background or country of origin. Staying up-to-date on vaccinations to protect themselves, their families and their communities from serious and sometimes life-threatening disease is everyone’s responsibility.
Marilyn Ranson is a public relations specialist at NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield, a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.