Immunizations Are for Adults Too

August 3, 2018

Vaccination, Immunization, SepsisWhen you hear the words vaccination or immunization, what do you think? Chances are you think about children and babies. This isn’t surprising since there’s strong emphasis on giving children vaccines against common childhood illnesses. But adults need vaccines too. Some are boosters for childhood vaccines, while others are geared towards age or lifestyle, such as particular lines of work or traveling to countries that require specific immunizations.

Vaccines or immunizations help lower the risk of contracting illnesses that can lead to sepsis. The best way to prevent sepsis from occurring is by reducing your risk of getting sick in the first place. August is National Immunization Awareness Month, so let’s take a moment to learn about which vaccines we need and why.

Childhood vaccines and boosters

There was a time when just about every child developed the common childhood illnesses, such as mumps and chicken pox. Sadly, while most children recovered and developed lifelong immunity to these illnesses, some developed severe complications and others died. The discovery of vaccinations against these illnesses has saved millions of lives over the years.

If you didn’t contract these childhood diseases and you haven’t received the recommended childhood vaccines, it’s never too late to be immunized from these viral infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This includes receiving the chicken pox (varicella) vaccine that wasn’t available until 1995. There is an added bonus to getting the chicken pox vaccine. If you never have chicken pox, you can’t develop shingles (herpes zoster). The illness is caused by the chicken pox virus which remains in your body after you have recovered.

Adults born in 1957 or later should get a booster MMR, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, as the immunity has worn off.

The tetanus vaccine is given several times throughout childhood and it must be continued throughout your life to keep you protected. Most adults receive the Td booster shot every 10 years. This vaccine also protects you from diphtheria. The CDC recommends that adults who have never been immunized against whooping cough (pertussis) receive one dose of Tdap, which protects you against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, followed by a Td booster every 10 years.

The flu shot

Influenza, the flu, is a respiratory illness spread by viruses. Each year, different strains of influenza circle the globe, infecting millions of people. Getting the flu one year doesn’t protect you against getting it again because the viruses change, leaving you unprotected.

Each year, scientists try to determine which flu viruses are most likely to strike during flu season, which generally runs from October to March in North America. It is a guessing game because they work from reports and testing earlier in the year and then they produce the appropriate vaccines. Unfortunately, in the time it takes the virus to spread, it has time to mutate and become harder to fight. As a result, the vaccines given in North America each year aren’t always a perfect match. That being said, the influenza vaccine is still protective to many people and is still recommended for most children and adults. Influenza is not a mild stomach bug or illness. It is a serious infection that can cause life-changing complications or even death. (Sepsis and Influenza)

Vaccines as we age

As we get older, we can become more susceptible to either contracting certain infections or developing complications to them. For example, the risk of developing shingles rises in our 50s and later. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says that half of the US population who live to 85 will develop shingles at some point. Some people get them twice. There are now two types of shingles vaccines available for healthy adults. Shingles itself doesn’t cause sepsis, but the open wounds caused by the rash can become infected, sometimes leading to sepsis.

Pneumococcal disease can affect anyone, but it’s particularly hard on older adults. Every year, approximately 1 million adults in the U.S. get pneumococcal pneumonia, and between 5% to 7% die. Pneumococcal meningitis can also cause serious injury or death. As with shingles, there are two types of pneumococcal vaccinations and the CDC recommends the vaccinations for older adults, as well as adults who have certain health issues.

Other vaccines

There are several other vaccines that are recommended to reduce your risk of developing illnesses like hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV) and more. The CDC has a vaccine checker for adolescents and adults, which can help advise you as to what boosters and new vaccines you may need. This questionnaire isn’t a replacement for medical advice, but to help you discuss your vaccine needs with your healthcare provider.

Not everyone can be immunized

People who have weakened immune systems may have to delay or avoid vaccinations altogether. Others are allergic to ingredients in some of the vaccines. These people can be protected from becoming ill by herd immunity. If the people around them are vaccinated, it is less likely that they will be exposed to the virus. It’s not 100% protection because exposure can happen anywhere, but having friends and family around who are vaccinated significantly reduces the risk.

Speak with your healthcare professional about your immunization needs and reduce your risk of becoming ill and possibly developing sepsis.