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The Importance of Vaccinations Across Age Groups

VaccinesAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and 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 Before They Arrive
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. Specifically, pregnant women and ALL caregivers should have an influenza vaccine every year and the Tetanus-Diphtheria-acellular Pertussis (Tdap) booster vaccine to protect against pertussis or “whooping cough”. Since newborns are not able to receive the pertussis or influenza vaccine right away, it is important everyone around them is protected.

Influenza vaccination is particularly important in pregnant women. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs related to pregnancy can place pregnant women at risk 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.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease. Pertussis can be serious for anyone but can be life-threatening in newborns and babies. Vaccinating pregnant women in their third trimester gives their babies short-term protective immunity until their babies can be vaccinated on-time beginning at 2 months, so they can build their own immune protection to pertussis. Pertussis information from the CDC can be found here.

COVID-19 vaccinations are also highly recommended in pregnancy, those who are breastfeeding, are trying to get pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19. Data regarding the safety and efficacy (how well a vaccine works) has been growing and suggests that the benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy outweighs any potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus is a respiratory virus that spreads during the fall and winter months. It can be particularly harmful to infants, in whom it is the leading cause of hospitalization in the United States. There is now an RSV vaccine that can be given during pregnancy. This vaccine is given during the RSV season to people who are 32-36 weeks pregnant. Information from the CDC about the RSV vaccine in pregnancy can be found here.

Protect Your Baby From the Start
Immunizations provide parents the power to protect their baby from 14 serious illnesses before the age of 2. Vaccines that are recommended for babies from birth through age 2 include Hepatitis B at birth, Rotavirus, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (DTaP), Haemophilus influenzae type b (HIB), Pneumococcal Conjugate, Polio, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR), Varicella, and Hepatitis A.

The immunization schedule is designed to provide immunity early in life, before children are likely to be exposed to the respective disease. To see which vaccines your children need, visit here. Some vaccines require multiple doses to provide your child with the best protection, and each recommended dose is important. All people 6 months and older should have a yearly influenza vaccine.

Unfortunately, children who don’t receive recommended vaccines are at risk of both getting an illness and having a severe case of the illness. Additionally, children who are not vaccinated and have a fever may need to be undergo more extensive evaluations for any of these serious infections. This may require more testing and intervention.

Back to School
Preparing for school is a perfect time to ensure 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.

Many parents are familiar with vaccines that their school-aged children received in early childhood, but are less familiar with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and meningococcal vaccines given in the preteen to teenage years. The HPV vaccine protects against many cancers caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine works best when it is given to boys and girls prior to any exposure to HPV. HPV information from the CDC can be found here.

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 MenACWY vaccine is recommended for all preteens at age 11 or 12 for protection against some of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Teens are recommended to receive the MenB vaccine at age 16 to continue providing protection when their risk for meningococcal disease is highest. Meningitis information from the CDC can be found here.

Young Adults and Vaccines
Vaccines are not just for children. Immunizations are needed throughout adult life to stay healthy and reduce risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Every adult should get the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent; and then a Td/Tdap 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 military recruits and first-year students who will be living in residence halls.

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 and then a Td/Tdap booster every 10 years. Additional vaccines adults may need (depending on age, health conditions, travel plans, and other factors) include: COVID-19, Shingles, Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and HPV.

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) 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 polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) is recommended for all adults age 65 and older. Adults younger than 65 years should receive both pneumococcal vaccines if they have additional health risk factors, such as immunocompromising conditions, renal failure, cancer, or not having 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. Adults should discuss with their physicians the risks and benefits of receiving the PCV13 pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, as certain health conditions may place them at increased risk to the disease.  

COVID-19 is the name of the life-threatening disease caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2. Not only can this infection be fatal, it can also cause severe persistent problems. Several vaccines have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) full approval or emergency use authorization (EUA) in order to prevent symptomatic COVID-19 illness (including vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax). For the most updated recommendation on COVID-19 vaccines in persons > 6 months, published by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), click here.

Vaccines Regardless of Age

Influenza Vaccine  
Those 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 protection against the influenza virus; therefore receiving the vaccine as soon as possible provides the best chance of protection.

Travel Vaccines
Travelers should be current for the U.S. recommended routine vaccines. Additionally, some routine vaccines are recommended at earlier ages for international travelers. For example, MMR vaccine and hepatitis A vaccine are recommended for infants aged 6-11 months who travel abroad. Generally travel vaccine recommendations will depend on age, destination, and activities during travel. Some examples include vaccines to Japanese encephalitis, Yellow Fever, Cholera, Typhoid, Hepatitis A or B, and Rabies. Not only are the vaccines important for your health, but NOT having some vaccines (such as the yellow fever vaccine) may prevent you from traveling to other countries. The CDC travel website at this link has information about staying healthy during travel.

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.

The AAAAI's Find an Allergist / Immunologist service is a trusted resource to help you find a specialist close to home.