August is National Immunization Awareness Month: Are You Up to Date With Your Vaccines?

Friday, August 5, 2022

A Message from Jessica Johnson, UnitedHealthcare Nurse Liaison

National Immunization Awareness Month is an annual observance held in August to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all age groups, including adults. The topic of vaccines always seems to be relevant — and may sometimes be a subject of misinformation. Before vaccines, infectious diseases like smallpox, polio and measles ran rampant. But thanks to medical advances, there are available vaccines to help protect us.

What’s a vaccine?

A vaccine is a small dose of germs meant to mimic a certain illness. This helps your body remember and recognize that infection and helps create antibodies to fight it off — keeping you healthy.

A vaccine works kind of like “practice” for your immune system. Each time you get a vaccine, your body may get better and better at fighting off that particular strain of illness. Until one day, your immune system spots that illness and the antibodies go into action. Depending on the illness, you may need a different number of vaccines at different time intervals to prevent it.

What’s the difference between vaccine and immunization?

There’s a lot of medical terminology out there. And many terms may mean the same thing, which is the case here. A vaccine may fire up your immune system so it can produce immunity to a specific illness. It’s usually given through an injection (like your annual flu shot). A vaccination or immunization (often used interchangeably) is simply the act of giving a vaccine. And once you have immunity to a specific illness, you may be protected from getting it even if exposed.

Do you need vaccines as an adult?

You likely already got the majority of common vaccines when you were younger (like chickenpox, measles and mumps), but immunizations are not just for children. Adults must keep their vaccinations up to date because immunity from childhood vaccines can wear off over time. You are also at risk for different diseases as an adult. All adults need immunizations to help them prevent getting and spreading serious diseases that could result in poor health, missed work, medical bills and inability to care for the family.

Vaccination is one of the most convenient and safest preventive care measures available. As you get older, your doctor may tell you when it’s time for your next one. And before you take a trip out of the country, ask your doctor if there are recommended vaccines based on your travel destinations. You may want to keep track of what vaccines you have received and when you need your next dose to complete a series.

  • All adults need the seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine every year. Flu vaccine is especially important for people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, and older adults.
  • Every adult should get a Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) or Tdap booster shot every 10 years. In addition, women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.

Vaccines for Adults between 19-26 Years Old

In addition to seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine and Td or Tdap vaccine (Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), you should also get HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of human papillomaviruses (HPV) that cause most cervical, anal and other cancers, as well as genital warts.

CDC recommends:

  • HPV vaccination for all preteens at age 11 or 12 years (can be given starting at age nine years).
  • HPV vaccination for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.

HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.

In addition, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all adults age 19 through 59 years. The vaccine provides protection from hepatitis B, which can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death.

Some vaccines may be recommended for adults because of particular job or school-related requirements, health conditions, lifestyle or other factors. For example, some states require students entering colleges and universities to be vaccinated against certain diseases like meningitis due to increased risk among college students living in residential housing.

Vaccines for Adults 50 and Older

As we age, our immune systems tend to weaken over time, putting us at higher risk for certain diseases. This is why, in addition to seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine and Td or Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), you should also get:

  • Shingles vaccine, which protects against shingles and complications from the disease (recommended for healthy adults 50 years and older). Almost one in three people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime, and your risk of shingles increases as you grow older.
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), which protects against serious pneumococcal disease, including meningitis and bloodstream infections (recommended for all adults 65 years or older and for adults younger than 65 years who have certain health conditions).
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), which protects against serious pneumococcal disease and pneumonia (recommended for all adults with a condition that weakens the immune system, cerebrospinal fluid leak or cochlear implant).

Adults 65 years or older who have never received a dose of PCV13 and do not have one of the conditions described above may also discuss vaccination with their vaccine provider to decide if PCV13 is appropriate for them.

In addition, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all adults age 19 through 59 years, and adults age 60 years or older with risk factors for hepatitis B infection. Adults aged 60 years or older without any known risk factors for hepatitis B infection may get the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine provides protection from hepatitis B, which can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death.

For more information on adult vaccinations, you can visit Adult Vaccination | CDC and Recommended Immunization Schedule for Adults. You can also reach out to me at jessica_r_johnson@uhc.com or 407-866-8134 for further questions, and of course, always talk with your doctor or other healthcare provider to find out which vaccines are recommended for you at your next medical appointment.

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