For Immediate Release
December 27, 2010

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

Adults Need Vaccines Too

An Op-Ed Column by Jason Eberhart-Phillips, MD
Kansas State Health Officer

If you think vaccines are just for kids, think again.

Grown-ups like you and I need to be immunized too. Adults like us need the protection that only vaccines can give to keep us on the go – and out of the hospital – as we enjoy the many blessings of life in the Sunflower State.

But results of a large national survey released last month show that most adults aren’t getting the vaccines they need. Foregoing the full range of doctor-recommended vaccines, these adults are making themselves – and those around them – vulnerable to serious infections.

Throughout America, we are doing better this year than ever before in seeing that young children receive all the vaccines they should. More than 90 percent of preschool children now receive most of the vaccines that pediatricians recommend, and many of the leading infectious killers of children have virtually disappeared as a result.

But the picture is not so rosy for adults.

Nowadays, more than 95 percent of the 50,000 Americans who die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases are over 18 years of age. Hundreds of thousands of other adults are hospitalized because of these infections every year, at a cost well over $10 billion, not including the value of time lost from work.

What a terrible waste!

Influenza, which can be prevented with an annual dose of vaccine, causes the single largest burden – more than 200,000 hospitalizations in a moderately severe season. Uptake of influenza vaccine is improving, but routine flu immunization still isn’t happening for a third of persons over 65 years of age or nearly two-thirds of high-risk, younger adults who have underlying chronic diseases.

But adults today need more vaccines than a yearly flu shot. Consider these sobering facts:

What can be done to improve vaccination rates among adults?

Clearly, doctors and other health care providers need to play an active role in promoting adult immunization, committing whenever possible to make vaccines easily available for their adult patients. One recent survey found that 87 percent of adults would accept vaccination if their doctor recommended it, while only 41 percent said they would ask to get a vaccine if their doctor did not mention it.

Another need is for greater public awareness. Fully 40 percent of adults in another recent survey believed that because they had received vaccines during childhood they did not need them again. A third of the respondents said they weren’t too concerned about catching the diseases that vaccines prevent, and an almost equal number said they had read or heard that adult vaccines are not safe.

Make no mistake about it: Immunization is an important part of a healthy adult lifestyle. The diseases that vaccines prevent in adults are serious and sometimes deadly. And the vaccines approved for use in adults have all been proven to be safe and effective for the whole population, excluding those few with valid medical contraindications.

Is today the day you will see your health care provider to get the vaccines you need?

Dr. Eberhart-Phillips is the Kansas State Health Officer and Director of Health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He can be reached at jeberhart-phillips@kdheks.gov. Go to his blog at: www.kdheks.gov/blogs/dr_jasons_blogs.htm.