Adults need their shots, too BY CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writer
Immunizations for whooping cough, chickenpox and other diseases aren't just for kids any more.
Adults are being advised to roll up their sleeves, too, to stay well and keep others around them healthy.
There are about a dozen immunizations available to adults. Whether or not you need them is based on your age, health and lifestyle, with a basic core of protection that starts as soon as you enter your 20s.
"Most people are surprised. They don't even realize they need them," said Dr. Aileen John, a family practice physician with Baron Family Practice in Manheim.
"Often, as they go through childhood and adolescence and become an adult, people forget about their routine physical maintenance that requires immunizations for them, too," said Dr. James Elia, of State Street Family Practice in Ephrata.
The topic is gaining traction across the country, fueled by the resurgence of some childhood diseases such as whooping cough and also by the implementation of electronic medical records, which can provide doctors with a reminder to check that patients have updated immunizations.
Other new tools are emerging to help adults stay on track.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online quiz (www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/Schedulers/adult-scheduler.html) -- with questions about your age, whether you smoke, have contact with a baby or have had certain childhood diseases -- which then generates a personalized chart with recommended immunizations. The CDC also plans to launch a smartphone app with an adult immunization schedule on it this spring.
Closer to home, the Lancaster County Business Group on Health is sponsoring a webinar on the topic next month for local business officials.
The attention to adult immunizations comes as changes in federal laws seek to focus the health care system on keeping patients well, instead of just treating them when they are sick, one official said.
"The whole reality of health care is in prevention," said Jim Schmucker, executive director of the Business Group. "The only way we're going to control costs is preventing illness. ... Immunization is a key component of that."
Doctors and the CDC include 11 immunizations on the list that some or all adults should get. They are: influenza, tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough, varicella or chickenpox, human papillomavirus or HPV (men and women), measles/mumps/rubella, shingles, two different pneumonia vaccines, meningococcal, hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Most doctors say healthy adults need just four on a regular basis: a flu shot, a tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough or Tdap vaccine, a shingles vaccine when they hit 60, and a pneumonia vaccine when they hit 65.
A flu shot is recommended for most people over the age of 6 months every year, said Dr. Charles Wagner of Adult Medicine Specialists in East Hempfield Township.
The Tdap vaccine is particularly important for those who have contact with infants, such as new parents, grandparents or others. Protection given by the childhood Tdap vaccine wanes over time, and increasing numbers of whooping cough cases have been reported in the country in recent years.
"That's something I definitely mention," Wagner said. "I say, 'Do you have kids? You really should consider it, especially if your spouse is pregnant.' "
Younger adults also should be vaccinated against HPV, which causes certain cancers, getting a series of three doses during their teenage years or up until the age of 26.
The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for military recruits, college freshmen living in dorms and those with certain medical conditions.
Hepatitis A and B are recommended for those with certain medical conditions, travel patterns or sexual activities.
"It can be very intimidating to figure out what you need," John said.
She said the CDC quiz can help you get started, as can a talk with your family doctor. Doctors also are trying to start the conversation with patients.
One possible roadblock to adult immunizations can be the cost.
A shingles vaccine, recommended for those over 60, costs $400, Wagner said. Most insurance companies cover it but some don't.
Elia said doctors can check to see if your insurance covers a vaccine before giving it to you.
Schmucker agreed that costs for vaccines can be "hefty."
"This is an evolving thing as well," he said. "It's slowly changing as people are seeing statistics that (immunizations) have impact on health care costs."
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