Are vaccines only important for children? Which vaccines should I worry about getting as an adult?

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Courtesy of DHR Health

By Dr. Marissa Gomez-Martinez, DHR Health Edinburg CISD School Based Health Center 

Vaccines play a key role in keeping us all healthy.  The CDC recommends vaccinations throughout your life to protect against several infections, many of which have no medical treatments.  When you skip vaccines, you leave yourself vulnerable to illnesses that can cause serious complications and even death.

Vaccines are important for all age groups.  Starting at birth and continuing throughout adolescence, children need to complete their primary series of vaccines for optimal protection from serious illness and complications of vaccine-preventable diseases.  Children have a mandatory schedule of vaccines that medical providers follow to eliminate outbreaks of preventable diseases. Keeping up with your child’s immunization schedule is extremely important, but vaccine importance does not stop when you become an adult.  As per the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 50,000 U.S. adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.  It is important to continue to maintain an up-to-date immunization status as you age.

Which vaccines should I worry about getting as an adult? 

Adults have a recommended vaccine schedule based on age and risk factors.  Vaccines may be indicated with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, chronic lung disease, asplenia, stem cell transplant, cancer, HIV or pregnancy.  Certain occupations, personal habits and situational exposures put people at greater risk for certain infections that may be prevented by specific vaccinations. Travel to certain countries can also pose a risk due to endemic conditions in that country and require specific vaccines before travel. Certain seasonal and environmental issues also play a role in vaccines for adults, such as the yearly flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine during the current pandemic.

Immunizations can also help prevent some infections that can lead to cancer.  Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections are both linked to certain cancers.  Vaccines can help prevent certain strains of both of these infections and should be considered for certain individuals.

Starting in early adulthood, college students are at risk for meningitis and should get their vaccines updated prior to school entry.  At age 50, it is recommended to get the shingles vaccine.  People age 65 and older and those with comorbidities such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and lung disease are at higher risk of complications from infectious diseases.  As you get older, immunity can fade and it can be more difficult to fight off infections.  The most important vaccinations adults and seniors should discuss with their physicians include the yearly flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccines to prevent pneumonia, shingles vaccines, HPV vaccine, tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap), measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), varicella vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. You can visit the CDC website to get a complete list of vaccines for you, your child or a loved one.

Vaccines prevent infection, keep us healthy and save lives.  Getting vaccinated can help you, your family and your community stay healthy.  Contact your primary care provider and talk about what you need to do to stay up-to-date on vaccinations specific for you and your family.