If you’re a parent, chances are you’re probably doing a great job of getting your children immunized against certain diseases. But what about you?
The truth is many adults aren’t following immunization schedules for themselves, which could put them at increased risk for certain illnesses.
Parents are well familiar with the busy immunization schedule for kids, starting with the Hepatitis B (HepB) vaccine given at birth.
Recommended schedules for children and adults are available at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
CDC figures show 90 percent of children get their recommended immunizations, a remarkably high number.
“The immunization schedule has been designed to coincide with timing for well-child visits,” said Dr. Edna DeVries, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician. “Immunizations are something pediatricians and family medicine physicians are tuned into.”
Immunizations for children vs. adults
Adults are a different story, again, according to the CDC:
- Only about 60 percent of adults get their pneumococcal immunization at age 65, putting them and others around them at risk for pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
- Worse yet, only 20 percent of people considered to be at “high risk” for pneumonia received a special dose of the vaccine.
- Only 14.2 percent of adults receive the Tdap vaccine for protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Among those 65 or older, only 8 percent were immunized.
If you are exposed to whooping cough, Care My Way® may be able to help. Download the app to get started.
Why are adult vaccine rates typically so low?
“Many patients come in for a certain problem, rather than for a wellness visit,” said Dr. Kelli Wehman-Tubbs, a Marshfield Clinic internal medicine physician. “We try to figure out what’s important to target, but it’s difficult to address everything patients need because they aren’t coming in that often.”
Cost and coverage
The decision to keep immunizations current, can come down to cost and what insurance will cover.
With so many health insurance plans out there, it’s impossible for providers to know what plans will cover the costs for patients.
Wehman-Tubbs doesn’t want to guess wrong and have her patients get stuck with a bigger bill than they’re prepared for. Patients ultimately seem to pick and choose their services, based on what they think is important that day.
“You really have to sell them,” she said. “Besides cost, they see misleading information on the Internet or in the media about reactions to vaccines, so they resist getting vaccines on those grounds.”
Some people who can’t get immunized can be protected by “herd immunity,” in populations where most people are immunized.
DeVries strongly recommends any adult who is around young children receive the Tdap immunization to protect infants, who can’t get that immunization until they’re 2 months old. Pertussis, or whooping cough, can be deadly to infants. Additionally, a flu vaccine should be given yearly.
View the Marshfield Clinic flu vaccine clinic schedule.
“It’s an easy opportunity that’s sometimes missed because these diseases are so much easier to prevent than to treat,” DeVries said.
Perhaps a lot of adults like me don't keep track of what immunizations they receive, leaving it to their primary care physicians to keep the records, and to remind their patients of what they need. Because I have an annual wellness exam, I have been assuming that my doctor will notify me of what immunizations I need. One question this article raises: are the pneumococcal and TDAP immunizations for adults intended to be administered one time only, or do they need to be repeated periodically?