Are you aware of immunizations? You may think that as someone who has passed the childhood years, you’re finished with immunizations. August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and here at PKIDs, we thought you should be aware that immunizations aren’t only for kids anymore. Here is a handy guide to immunizations for specific populations, from children to tweens and teens to those who are more mature in years.
Immunization starts in childhood, with the standard shots against measles, mumps and rubella, chickenpox, polio, hib, hepatitis, diphtheria, pneumococcal, rotavirus, tetanus and whooping cough for children ages six and under. These vaccination programs have been extraordinarily successful at saving lives and permanent negative effects from these diseases. For example:
- Vaccines have successfully wiped smallpox from the face of the planet. This horrific disease could kill as many as 25% of those infected and left survivors with permanent disfigurement. Scientists declared it globally eradicated—thanks to vaccines—in 1980.
- Polio used to hit about 50,000 people every year in the United States. Between 13,000 and 20,000 of those cases were paralytic polio that left thousands of children disabled, some in iron lungs, unable to breathe on their own. Thanks to immunization, polio is a thing of the past in the Western Hemisphere but is resurging in areas where immunization programs have been suspended, including Nigeria.
- The United States is currently experiencing measles outbreaks, primarily among unvaccinated groups. These outbreaks have resulted in high hospitalization rates. Vaccines against measles prevent infection—which also means preventing the death and disability that this highly infectious disease causes. In areas of the world where vaccines are lacking, hundreds of thousands of children die every year from measles.
- Have you ever known anyone who has died of diphtheria? If not, that’s because of vaccines. About 13,000 people died each year in the United States before the vaccine. In 2002, there was a single case of diphtheria in the US.
- And take chickenpox. You may not consider chickenpox to be deadly, but before the vaccine, the death rate was about 0.41 per million cases. The death rate has dropped 97% among children and teens since the advent of the varicella vaccine.
Tweens and Teens
Don’t leave out children over age six when it comes to immunizations. Kids ages 11 and 12 need boosters for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis), and everyone needs protection against meningococcal with a booster after a few years. Further, current recommendations are also for girls to get the HPV vaccine, which protects against the viruses that most commonly cause cervical cancer. Remember that your daughter’s sexual behavior or history is not the only determinant of whether or not she will be exposed to the virus; her partner’s past matters, too. The HPV vaccine is also licensed for boys—talk to your son’s provider about vaccination.
If you’re grown, you still need to get a tetanus booster every decade, or TDaP if you haven’t received at least one booster for whooping cough. If you’re age 60 or older, get your shingles vaccine to avoid a painful viral attack on your nervous system. Adults age 65 or better also should get a one-time pneumonia shot.
Everyone should get vaccinated against flu each year, either with a shot or a nasal spray. The nasal spray contains live, weakened viruses and is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. The flu shot is approved for people ages 6 months and over, either healthy or with chronic health conditions. Children younger than 2 years, pregnant women, and people over age 50 are especially vulnerable and a specifically targeted population for flu shots. If you have a fever, egg allergy, or a history of reaction or Guillain-Barré following a flu shot, you should not get the vaccine.
Speaking of people who can’t get vaccines for medical reasons, one final thing to be aware of during National Immunization Awareness Month and beyond: Vaccinations as preventive healthcare don’t prevent disease only in you or your child. They also protect those who can’t receive vaccine protection because of allergy or medical conditions. It’s protection for all of us.
Image courtesy of CDC