Are you up to date on your vaccines?
By Christopher Parsons, M.D.
Director, Center for Infectious Disease
Pardee UNC Health Care
Prior to the mid-1900s, diseases like measles, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio infected hundreds of thousands of adults, children and babies in the United States. When vaccines for these diseases were developed and widely used, the rates of these illnesses significantly declined. Therefore, these infections are no longer commonly seen in the U.S., although outbreaks still do occur, especially among unvaccinated individuals.
Take diphtheria, for example. Before the vaccine, the disease killed 15,000 Americans in 1921 alone and around 20,000 cases were reported annually. Thanks to the vaccine, diphtheria was reported only twice to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 2004 and 2014.
Consider rubella. Between 1962 and 1965, 12.5 million people in the U.S. suffered from this infection which led to the deaths of 2,100 babies and 11,000 miscarriages. But thanks to the vaccine introduced in 1969, fewer than 25 cases have been reported annually since 2001.
Center for Infectious Disease
Why you should get vaccinated
Staying up to date on your vaccines reduces the chances of you getting a disease and passing it to others, particularly those who are most vulnerable including older adults, babies and individuals with chronic health issues. When people aren’t vaccinated against these infections, outbreaks can occur and vaccines prevent uncommon infections from making a comeback.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes, vaccines are safe for most people when given at the appropriate age and approved by your physician. Vaccines are widely researched and studied for safety before being introduced to the general public. Side effects are possible, but rare. Talk to your primary care provider about which vaccines are right for you.
Vaccines most adults need
The vaccines you need will vary based on your age, health, lifestyle and past vaccination status. Discuss your vaccinations with your primary care provider at your annual checkup. In general, the CDC recommends the following:
COVID-19 vaccine. If you haven’t already been vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s not too late. Vaccines are free and widely available at local pharmacies, doctor’s offices and health clinics. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 protects you from severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Yearly flu shot. The strains of the flu change each year, so it’s important to get vaccinated every year, particularly crucial if you’re 65 or older, pregnant or have certain medical conditions like chronic lung disease or heart failure.
Shingles vaccine. This vaccine is recommended for adults 50 and older and helps prevent shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash and occasional long-term pain issues.
Pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine protects against pneumonia and bloodstream infections caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as “pneumococcus”). This vaccine is recommended if you’re 65 or older and possibly earlier if you smoke or have certain health conditions.
Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine. Though rare, tetanus and diphtheria can cause severe illness or death. Adults need a Td vaccine booster every 10 years or after five years if they experience contamination of a wound or burn.
Whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine. Adults need the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine once. Additionally, the vaccine should be given during pregnancy.
Travel vaccines. If you plan to visit another country, ask your primary care provider or health department if they recommend any vaccines prior to your trip. Contact them as soon as you know your travel dates because some vaccines require multiple doses and your body may need time to build immunity.
Other vaccines. You may also need other vaccines based on your vaccination history, health and individual risk factors. These include vaccines for human papillomavirus (HPV); measles, mumps and rubella; chickenpox; and meningitis (this is especially important for preteens, teens and college-age individuals).
Remember, when you are up to date on your vaccines, you help keep yourself, your family and your community safe and healthy. If you have any questions about what’s right for you, talk to your primary care provider. To find one near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.
Dr. Parsons is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease at Pardee UNC Health Care.