You’re never too old for immunization

By Webmaster | Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:01pm

You’re never too old for immunization

Immunization is a word that often invokes images of parents pacifying their teary-eyed children who had just receive a jab of childhood vaccine in the doctor’s consultation room. In fact, once we passed childhood, we hardly think about immunization in our adult lives, except for certain instances such as travelling to countries that have an influenza outbreak. And even then, there are some of us who think that “I have always been healthy. Certainly, I have sufficient natural immunity against the flu.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need immunization as much as children do - we never outgrow the need for vaccination. However, the specific immunization that adults need depends on factors, such as your age, lifestyle, high-risk conditions, type and locations of travel, and previous immunizations.

8 reasons why adults need immunization

Waning immunity. Many of us may have received immunization during childhood, but immunity can fade over time unless boosters are given regularly. For certain diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough) or tetanus, the protection may not be life-long. Vaccines for pertussis and tetanus are usually given together with diphtheria vaccine, and are recommended in adults for whom more than 10 years have passed since their last known vaccination. Thereafter, a booster dose of tetanus and diphtheria should be administered every 10 years.

Some vaccines are meant for adults. Reactivation of the chickenpox virus in adulthood causes shingles (herpes zoster or zoster), a severe and painful skin rash that is also associated with symptoms such as headache, sensitivity to light and malaise (general feeling of weakness). A common complication of shingles is persistent nerve pain that last for months and years after healing of the rashes. Vaccination for shingles is recommended in adults 60 years and above.

Flu can have severe consequences and can affect everyone. Flu or influenza starts abruptly with symptoms of fever, sore throat, headache, muscle ache, chills, extreme fatigue and cough. It can cause worsening of underlying diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, and also increase the risk of developing of bacterial pneumonia.

Influenza viruses possess unique ability to mutate as they multiply. These genetic changes accumulate over time to a point that antibodies created against the older viruses are no longer effective for the “newer” viruses. For such reasons, the US CDC and the Malaysia Society of Infectious Disease and Chemotherapy (MSIDC) recommend annual influenza vaccination for every adult, unless the person has a medical reason not to receive the vaccine.

To protect your children. This is especially true for babies who are too young to be vaccinated. For instance, there is no influenza vaccine approved for use in infants younger than 6 months old. Vaccination of adults who are in regular contact with the infant provides a “cocoon” of protection around the infant. Hence, influenza vaccination is recommended for pregnant mothers and household members, including out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months old. Pertussis is another disease where vaccination in pregnant mothers and household members helps protect the little ones.

To protect you when you travel. Travelling to exotic countries brings new experiences and adventures, but it may also mean contracting vaccine-preventable illnesses that you have never encountered back home. For example :

• Yellow fever is an acute, and often fatal, hemorrhagic disease caused by the Flavivirus, and is
   transmitted by female mosquitoes. Vaccination is required for people travelling to parts of the
   sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.
• The Saudi Arabian authorities mandate compulsory meningococcal vaccination as a condition
   for pilgrims who are travelling to Mecca for Hajj or Umrah.
• Vaccination for cholera, typhoid and Hepatitis A helps to lower the risk of acquiring and transmitting
   these food and water-borne diseases before travelling to endemic areas or countries, where food
   and water hygiene as well as sanitation may be an issue.

Newer vaccines have been developed. Certain vaccines recommended for adults are fairly recent and new. Examples are the human papillomavirus vaccine and the shingles vaccine, both of which were only made available in the last decade. Other vaccines that are currently in research and development include vaccines against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), dengue, malaria, tuberculosis and hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD). A lead candidate vaccine for dengue has recently completed clinical trials in humans and is estimated to be available in the near future.

You have chronic health conditions including asthma, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. People with chronic illnesses or those with a weakened immune system due to disease or medications (eg, cancer, HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome [AIDS], patients on long-term steroids) have limiting defects in their immune system (rendering them at higher risk of infection), and should be immunized to reduce the risk of infection. Bear in mind that the efficacy of immunization decreases with disease progression, thus, these group of people should be immunized as soon as possible. Check with your doctor if you are concern about your health status and risk of vaccine-preventable illnesses.

You are a healthcare professional. Healthcare professionals are in routine contact with sickly individuals and are at significant risk of acquiring and transmitting vaccine-preventable illnesses. The MSIDC strongly recommends immunization of healthcare professionals for the following diseases: hepatitis B; measles, mumps and rubella; influenza; pertussis; and chickenpox.

Immunization is not only for children - adults need vaccinations just as much to maintain good health. Talk to your doctor today to find out more on the types of immunization you may need.

1. US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunization schedules for adults. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/adult.html  Accessed on 27 July 2015.
2. Malaysia Society of Infectious Diseases and Chemotherapy. Guidelines for Adult Immunization. 2nd Edition, 2014.
3. WebMD. 12 reasons why adults need vaccines. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/vaccines/features/why-adults-need-vaccines. Accessed on 27 July 2015.
4. US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule—United States – 2015. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/adult/adult-schedule.pdf. Accessed on 27 July 2015.
5. US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. How the Flu Virus Can Change: “Drift” and “Shift”. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/change.htm. Accessed on 27 July 2015.
6. World Health Organization. Immunization, Vaccines and Biological: Research and development – disease-specific areas of work. Available at: http://www.who.int/immunization/research/development/en/. Accessed on 27 July 2015.




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