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The Importance of Vaccinations Across Age Groups

VaccinesAccording to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), immunizations are among the top 10 public health accomplishments of the 20th century. Immunizations have significantly reduced the incidence of many serious infectious diseases. In fact, each year in August, National Immunization Awareness Month provides an opportunity to highlight the importance of immunization. Continue reading for more information on immunizations for patients of all ages.

Protect Your Baby From the Start
Pregnancy is the perfect time to plan for a baby’s immunizations, and to make sure that parents have the vaccines they need. Protecting parents protects babies during the first months of life. In addition to the vaccines recommended for all healthy adults, pregnant women need to have an influenza vaccine every year and the Tetanus-Diphtheria-acellular Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine during every pregnancy to protect against pertussis or “whooping cough”. Other caregivers should also have an annual influenza immunization, and should have a Tdap vaccine, but do not need a Tdap vaccine with each pregnancy.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease. Pertussis can be serious for anyone but can be life-threatening in newborns and babies. Because there are no vaccines for whooping cough licensed or recommended for newborns, three strategies are used to protect newborns: vaccinating pregnant women in their third trimester to give their babies short-term immunity, vaccinating caregivers, and vaccinating babies on-time beginning at 2 months, so that they build their own immunity to pertussis.

Influenza vaccination is particularly important in pregnant women. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs related to pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to severe illness, hospitalizations, and even death related to influenza. Pregnant women who become ill with influenza have an increased risk of premature labor and delivery. Vaccination during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby from influenza-related illness and hospitalizations.

Immunizations provide parents the power to protect their baby from 14 serious illnesses before the age of two. Vaccines that are recommended for babies from birth through age two include Hepatitis B, Rotavirus, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Pneumococcal Conjugate, Polio, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella, and Hepatitis A.

Unfortunately, children who don’t receive recommended vaccines are at risk of both getting an illness, and having a severe case of the illness.

Back to School
Preparing for school is a perfect time to make sure children are up to date on their immunizations. Immunizing a child is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their child’s health. Unvaccinated children are at increased risk for disease and can spread disease to others. Schools are susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases because school-age children can transmit illnesses to one another as a result of poor hand hygiene and dense populations.

Children ages four to six are due for four vaccines: DTaP (Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis), Varicella (“chickenpox”), MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and Polio. Preteens and teens (11+) need Tdap, MenACWY (Meningococcal Conjugate) and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccines. All people six months and older should have a yearly influenza vaccine.

Many parents are familiar with vaccines that their school-aged children received in early childhood (Tetanus, Diphtheria, acellular Pertussis, Varicella, MMR, and Polio), but are less familiar with the HPV and MenACWY vaccines. HPV can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, and anus. The HPV vaccine protects against diseases caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine works best when it is given to boys and girls prior to any exposure to HPV.

The two most severe and common illnesses caused by meningococcal disease are meningitis (infection of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord that can be fatal) and septicemia (infection of the bloodstream). The first meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all preteens at age 11 or 12 for protection against some of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. A second meningococcal vaccine is recommended for teens at age 16 to continue providing protection when their risk for meningococcal disease is highest.

Children may need other vaccines depending on their personal health status.

Young Adults and Vaccines
Vaccines are not just for children. Immunizations are needed throughout adult life to stay healthy. Immunity from childhood vaccinations may wear off over time, and adults may also be at risk for additional vaccine-preventable diseases.

Every adult should get the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent; and then a Td (Tetanus, Diphtheria) booster every 10 years. Young adults who have not finished the HPV vaccine series should be vaccinated. The meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for young adults, especially first-year students who will be living in residence halls and military recruits.

Everyone older than 6 months should have an annual influenza vaccine. Complications of influenza illness can include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions. Influenza seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop for protection against influenza virus infection, therefore receiving the vaccine as soon as possible provides the best chance of protection.

Young adults may need other vaccines depending on their childhood vaccination history, travel plans, occupation, and personal health status.

Vaccines for Adults
Immunization is especially important for adults over 60 years, and for people with chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, and heart disease. All adults should get an influenza vaccine each year to protect against seasonal influenza, the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent; and then a Td booster every 10 years. Additional vaccines adults may need (depending on age, health conditions, travel plans, and other factors) include: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, HPV, Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, and Shingles.

The Herpes Zoster (Shingles) vaccine and the Pneumococcal vaccines are two vaccines that adults may be less familiar with. Shingles occurs when latent Varicella (“chickenpox”) virus reactivates later in life. Pain from shingles can be severe and can last for months or years after the rash resolves. The Herpes Zoster (Shingrix) vaccine is recommended for adults 50 years or older.

Pneumococcal vaccines protect against invasive pneumococcal diseases, such as meningitis and bloodstream infections. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) are recommended for all adults age 65 and older. Adults younger than 65 years should receive both pneumococcal vaccines if they have immunocompromising conditions, renal failure, cancer, or do not have a spleen. Adults younger than 65 years who have chronic heart lung, or liver disease, diabetes, alcoholism, or who are cigarette smokers should receive the PPSV23 vaccine.

Parents and patients should ask their allergist/immunologist which vaccines are right for them. To view the current recommended immunization schedule, parents and patients can review the following here. To view or print the Vaccine Information Statements for each vaccine, visit here.

This article has been reviewed by Andrew Moore, MD, FAAAAI

Reviewed Date: 10/16/19