Preventing an illness is always better than trying to treat it once it occurs. That's why doctors with the Tennessee Department of Health encourage people of all ages to talk with their healthcare providers about the immunizations needed for lifelong protection.
"Vaccines aren't just for kids. They provide protection against many potentially serious and preventable illnesses that can strike an individual, a family or a community without warning," said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. "We see deadly influenza every year; mumps outbreaks have been ongoing in the U.S., including Tennessee; measles outbreaks have surged worldwide because too many people have been misled by just plain wrong, unscientific information about vaccines. The bottom line is this: Nothing is zero risk. We all depend on each other to be current on vaccines to protect each other and communities because no vaccine is 100 percent effective and not every person can take vaccine. Many people doing the right thing protects all of us, especially the most vulnerable among us."
In recent years, new vaccines have been added to the healthy living toolbox to protect adults better than ever before. Nonetheless, most adults in Tennessee and around the country have not yet taken advantage of them. Tennesseans over age 65 are pretty good about getting pneumococcal and influenza vaccines, but fewer than one in four younger adults whose health, lifestyle or occupation may put them at risk for certain infections such as hepatitis B, pneumococcal disease or pertussis, have actually gotten these important vaccines.
"What your healthcare provider will recommend will be based on your previous immunizations, age, health conditions, travel plans and other factors," said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. "The adult immunization schedule is updated each year and available online. If your healthcare provider does not bring up immunizations, you should! Vaccines help you stay in the best possible health at every age."
Some of the vaccines healthcare providers will recommend may include:
- Tdap vaccine, which stands for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). The Tdap vaccine is a booster vaccine recommended just once for every person age 11 years and older. People who have had Tdap should get a Td booster for tetanus and diphtheria every 10 years. Pregnant women are different: a woman should get Tdap between the 27th and 36th week of each pregnancy to protect her newborn from pertussis.
- Pneumococcal vaccines come in two varieties. Everyone age 65 and older needs PCV13 first, followed by PPSV23 a year later. These two vaccines help prevent serious bloodstream infections with 23 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria, and PCV13 can reduce the risk of pneumonia. Certain adults with chronic health problems, including diabetes, asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, immune system problems and those who smoke may also need one or both of these vaccines well before they turn 65.
- Shingles vaccine is recommended for people 60 and older. It can reduce the risk of the common painful shingles rash which comes from reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox in children. Vaccinated people who get shingles are much less likely to experience the severe nerve pain complications of shingles that can last months or years.
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella, or "MMR" vaccine protects against all three diseases. Those born after 1957 who have never had the vaccine should talk with their healthcare provider about getting a dose.
- HPV vaccine is for younger adults, through age 26. It protects against types of human papillomavirus that cause several kinds of cancer in men and women, including deadly cervical cancer and cancers of the mouth and throat. If given on time as a preteen, only two doses are needed, but three doses are needed if the first dose is given after age 15. It also protects against certain types of warts.
- Hepatitis A and B vaccines prevent infections with two very different viruses that can damage your liver. Both vaccines are now routinely given to all young children; however, some adults who were not vaccinated as children should be vaccinated now. Hepatitis A vaccine is especially important if you travel outside the United States because this common virus can be transmitted through contaminated food and drinks. Hepatitis B virus can cause lifelong chronic infection and is spread through blood or sexual contact with an infected person. Adults with diabetes and those whose work or lifestyle put them at risk of contact should ask a healthcare provider about being vaccinated.
Influenza vaccine should be an annual event for all adults. It is tailored specifically for each flu season. It is especially important for older adults, those with health problems and pregnant women.
"People around the world enjoy healthier, longer lives thanks to safe, effective vaccines," Moore said. "However, a vaccine cannot protect you if it is sitting in a vial on a shelf! Take the first important step with a simple question to your pharmacist or doctor: 'What vaccines do I need today to protect myself and others?'"
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2017 recommended adult immunization schedule is available at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/adult.html. To figure out what you may need, the CDC has an online interactive adult immunization quiz with a result you can print and take to your doctor: www2a.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched/.