• Many adults have never been administered vaccines during childhood.
• Some of the vaccines available now were not available a few years ago.
• It is also highly likely that immunity reduces as a person grows old
Childhood immunization is done very early and some of its effects are likely to wear off leaving individuals at risk for newer and different diseases. Regardless of age, we need immunization against a whole gamut of vaccine-preventable diseases to maintain health and lead a disease-free life.
Factors that determine Adult Immunization
Each country has its own guidelines regarding immunization in adults. An adult's need for immunization is very specific and are determined by certain factors. They include -
• Health condition
• Previous immunization
• Nature of job
• Areas / locations where travel is to be undertaken
Diseases and Adult immunization
• Tetanus, Diphtheria and Whooping cough - Tetanus is a condition that causes painful tightening of muscles, including “lock jaw” where a person is unable to open the mouth, swallow or breathe. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted through cuts or wounds. Diphtheria is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an extremely contagious respiratory tract infection. Living with whooping cough can be traumatic as it involves periods of fitful coughing, difficulty in breathing, choking and difficulty in doing everyday chores. The condition can be quite severe for both babies and adults. These infections can be prevented by administering the vaccine Tdap to any adult who has not ever been administered vaccines for these conditions earlier. The CDC recommends the Tdap vaccine once in individuals who have not received the vaccine beyond the age of 11 years with a Td booster every 10 years.
• Seasonal Influenza - Influenza is a respiratory viral infection characterized by chills, runny nose, headache, body pain, fatigue and fever. It is mostly seasonal and can cause complications especially in the elderly. It can be prevented by a vaccine for all adults against the flu virus. The vaccine has to be repeated every year. There are different types of flu vaccine; your health care provider will decide on the correct one that you should take.
• Shingles - Shingles is an infection characterized by skin rashes, headaches, chills, and fever and is brought about by the same virus which causes chicken pox,, varicella zoster. Shingles can cause loss of eye sight if the virus attacks the eye. A vaccine for shingles, ‘Zoster’, may be administered to all adults, 60 years and older.
• Hepatitis A and B - Hepatitis is a condition involving inflammation of the liver. It is brought about by hepatitis A and B viruses. Hepatitis A is spread through food contamination while hepatitis B is acquired through contact with infected blood products, unsafe sex with infected partner(s), drug abuse and through breast –feeding mothers. The symptoms of hepatitis involves fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eye. Adults may be protected against these viral hepatitis infections by being vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B viruses if they did not receive the vaccines as children.
• Pneumococcal disease - Pneumococcal infections are caused by certain bacteria. It may cause infections including pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis and sepsis. Adults who have lower immunity are more prone to these infections, which can be prevented through pneumococcal vaccinations.
• Meningococcal disease - Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the brain and spinal cord which can be prevented in adults through meningococcal vaccination. The vaccine may be administered to adults at high risk for the infection.
• Rubella - Rubella is a viral infection which is consequential to pregnant mothers and their children. It can be prevented with the help of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The vaccine is administered to adults who have not received it earlier as children. It should not be administered to pregnant women.
• HPV infections: The human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer in females and genital warts in both males and females. It is advised in three doses in women up to the age of 26 years and men up to the age of 21 years, and between the age of 22 to 26 years if they are at a high risk for the infection.
• Chicken pox vaccine: Chicken pox can cause a more severe infection in adults than in children. The chicken pox vaccine is administered in two doses to adults who have not received it earlier or who have not suffered from the infection during their childhood.
A consultation with a doctor will help a person decide on the vaccinations that is required for the individual. If you are at risk for a disease because of your occupation or if you are travelling to a region which is at an endemic risk for an infection you may need to talk to your doctor about it and get vaccinated accordingly.
As responsible adults, it is our responsibility to live a healthy life and to make sure that our family and loved ones are disease-free. Let us make it our duty to remind our near and dear ones, our colleagues and others in our community about the need to protect ourselves by getting vaccinated.