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In a Heartbeat

Adults need vaccinations, too

| Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Dr. Amanda Michael
St. Clair Hospital
Dr. Amanda Michael
A flu vaccination.
AFP/Getty Images
A flu vaccination.

As flu season approaches, many adults will get vaccinated against the annual illness. But many U.S. adults aren't getting vaccinated for some more serious preventable illnesses such as viral hepatitis, influenza and shingles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The diseases can cause severe illness, pain and even death. Dr. Amanda Michael, an infectious disease specialist at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, is trying to increase vaccination rates. Below, Michael discusses adult vaccinations.

Why do adults need vaccinations?

Adults are at risk for contracting a variety of vaccine-preventable diseases. The current CDC recommendations for adult vaccination target 17 preventable diseases, including influenza, hepatitis A and B, human papilloma virus (which can cause cancer), pneumococcal disease, measles, pertussis and zoster (shingles). Immunity from childhood or from earlier vaccinations can wear off over time, and now there are new, improved versions of some of those vaccines. Certain vaccines, such as the shingles vaccine, are specifically for adults. Individual needs are determined by a number of factors, such as lifestyle, age, occupation, travel habits and the existence of other medical conditions.

What are some of the obstacles to adult vaccination?

Part of the problem is that vaccines are so successful that people underestimate the threat that contagious infectious diseases still pose. I hear people say, ‘Why should I get the polio vaccine, when no one gets polio anymore?' The reason that we no longer see cases of polio is the polio vaccine — but polio still exists and could make a comeback if we fail to continue vaccinating against it. There has also been a lot of misleading information about vaccine safety; this is unfortunate because vaccination is actually one of the safest and most cost-effective medical procedures we have. People sometimes worry about the side effects of vaccines, but typically these are mostly minor issues that don't compare to the suffering that can result from having a vaccine-preventable disease.

What is the importance of improving adult vaccination rates?

Even when a disease has become rare, high rates of vaccination have to be maintained in order to prevent outbreaks. As long as most people in a community are vaccinated, an outbreak of a disease is unlikely. This is called herd immunity and it is essential for the protection of those who are most vulnerable: newborns; the very elderly, people whose immunity is compromised by illness or medication and those who cannot be vaccinated. Vaccination is an important part of self-care, but it is also something we do for loved ones and our community.

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