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Do Adults Need Booster Shots?

June 23, 2016

We all have that childhood memory of going to a doctor or clinic and getting pricked. At the time, we may have been too young to realize it was for our own good. 

However, as adults we should understand the importance of vaccinations. Unfortunately, too many adults — either out of fear, lack of time or general awareness — don’t get vaccinated when they should. Do adults need shots? Do adults who received vaccinations as children need booster shots? The answer to both is yes, and here are four reasons why.

Because Your Childhood Booster Shots May No Longer Work

Vaccination saves 2.5 million lives every year. According to the most recently available CDC data, between 57.5 and 91.5 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months receive vaccinations for a variety of diseases in 2014, compared to between 37 and 89 percent of children in 1994.

Chances are you were among the millions of children who received booster shots. Unfortunately, those vaccines may no longer be effective since diseases change or your immunity wears off over time. Adult booster shots are recommended now because we are starting to find out that shots may not last an adult's lifetime. Vaccinations are particularly important for cases such as whooping cough (Tdap vaccine) and the flu. If you plan to travel overseas, adults should receive vaccines for polio, yellow fever, hepatitis B and typhoid fever. Seniors and high-risk patients are especially vulnerable, too, but even adults who aren’t in this category should get vaccinated. 

Additionally, recommendations for vaccination change all the time. For example, meningococcal vaccine used to be recommended for teenagers between ages 15-18, but now, two doses are recommended with the first to be given between ages 11-15. Since vaccines change over time, it is important for adults to make sure their vaccines are up to date.

Because the Flu, Shingles, Pneumonia and Meningitis Can be Serious

As you age, your body changes and its ability to fight disease can change if you have another illness. A weakened immune system can put you at risk for conditions like the flu, pneumonia, shingles and meningitis, a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can penetrate the brain and spinal cord. 

Some of these diseases, while common, can quickly turn life-threatening if they aren’t properly treated. In some cases, they can be debilitating even after a person receives treatment. That’s why prevention is critical. According to the CDC, 226,000 people every year are hospitalized with the flu and 49,000 people die from this condition every year — most of them are adults. 

Vaccinations lower your risk for the flu and other infections and can reduce the severity of symptoms if you do happen to become ill after getting vaccinated. 

Vaccines Can Prevent More Serious Diseases

It’s also clear that some vaccinations are literally lifesaving. This is true for the human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine can prevent most genital warts and cases of cervical cancer — which we call the “silent killer” because the disease often has no symptoms in its early stages. HPV vaccinations, which include Gardasil and Cervarix, can last up to nine years and have been shown in clinical trials to be 97 percent effective in preventing cervical cancer and other vaginal diseases.

You’re Safer in the Event of an Outbreak

Outbreaks do occur, and when this happens, people who are vaccinated and those around them are usually safer. The 2010 whooping cough outbreak in California is a perfect example of the importance of vaccinations. The outbreak resulted in the illness of 9,477 and caused the death of ten infants. While the disease is typically fatal only among children and babies, unvaccinated adults can carry and transmit the disease to susceptible children who have no yet received the vaccine. 

However, if many of these people had received a booster shot when they were due, the outbreak likely would’ve been less severe. Two percent of babies were not vaccinated, by CDC figures, since some parents counted on the concept of “heard immunity” to protect their children; those two percent were the ones susceptible to the disease. If you were born after 1957 and haven’t been vaccinated, schedule an appointment with your doctor to do so.

There’s no valid reason to avoid vaccination. Most vaccines are covered by insurance and you easily can get one at your doctor’s office, pharmacy or local clinic (search this HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find a facility near you). Even if you become ill with a condition for which vaccination is recommended, it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated after you’ve treated the illness. Doing so could reduce your risk for conditions like the flu, measles, shingles and certain strains of pneumonia in the future.


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