Interesting article: adult vaccinations
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|Thu, 07-10-2003 - 12:16am|
Most adults ensure that their children are vaccinated against childhood diseases, but many neglect to get their own immunizations. Even those who are well informed about health do not seem to know that adults, too, need vaccines. Nearly 50,000 adults die in America each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that these illnesses cost society $10 billion a year. Reaching adults with vaccines takes creative thinking, but it can be done, as has been shown by France and other countries with effective adult vaccination programs.
While all children need basic immunizations, adults have more varied needs, an obstacle to getting out the vaccine message. People over 50 and anyone with chronic heart, lung or kidney problems should get annual flu vaccinations. But in 2001 only a quarter of the adults from 18 to 64 with a specific risk of flu were vaccinated. People 65 and older and those with special health problems should also be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease — the most common cause of pneumonia, accounting for some 175,000 hospitalizations each year. In addition, a vaccine can protect against hepatitis B, which is transmitted through sex and shared needles and kills 5,000 adults a year in the United States.
Adults should also get a tetanus booster every 10 years. Certain people should be vaccinated against hepatitis A, chickenpox, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella. In the next few years vaccines are likely to become available against the herpes virus and the human papillomavirus — the world's most prevalent sexually transmitted infection and the leading cause of cervical cancer.
Children benefit from a good vaccine structure. Pediatricians inform parents about vaccines and are equipped to administer them. Schools and day care centers require proof of immunization. In most cases, an insurance company or the government pays for vaccines. Many states have a computerized registry to track immunizations.
Adults have none of these advantages. They tend to see doctors only when they are sick, and those doctors are often specialists who rarely mention vaccines. Despite the fact that adult vaccines are extremely cost-effective, Medicare and insurance coverage is spotty. Adults are often unsure of which shots they have had.
As children's vaccine coverage has improved, money has become available in the last five years to create a better system for adult vaccinations. But it has a long way to go. The hepatitis B vaccine should be available in prisons, at college health clinics and at sexually transmitted disease clinics. All doctors' offices and hospitals should provide information about adult vaccines, and clinics and doctors who see patients on a regular basis, like gynecologists, urologists and cardiologists, should offer vaccines. State registries for children could be expanded to allow adults to keep track of their own immunization histories online. It is worth investing in ways to promote a basic, cost-effective health measure that not only helps protect adults, but also everyone in their households.