Getting immunized against infectious diseases is an important part of staying healthy, even for adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), though, vaccination rates in adults are much lower than children. Those rates remain below the targeted immunization rates, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Healthy People 2020 campaign for improving public health. About half of adults get a yearly flu shot, but there are far more vaccines needed to stay healthy.
“Many adult patients think of getting vaccinated as something that doesn’t apply to them. They assume the vaccines they got as children are all they need,” says Katarzyna Budzynska, M.D., a family medicine doctor with Henry Ford Health. “The truth is that adults may need new vaccines or a booster to help improve the effectiveness of vaccines they’ve already gotten.”
Dr. Budzynska recommends certain vaccinations for adults based on their age, health condition, and other factors. Here are four reasons to stay up to date on your vaccinations for your own health and the health of those around you:
- Viruses and infectious diseases are constantly evolving. Viruses like the flu are continuously evolving in order to survive. Yearly flu shots are designed to combat the latest versions of the influenza virus and the predicted common strains of the virus for the year. This is why we all need to get new flu shots each year.
- Vaccination helps develop our “herd immunity.” Vaccination is not an option for some people. Infants have underdeveloped immune systems and are more susceptible to infectious disease than an older child or adult, and may not be ready to receive an immunization yet, for example. Sometimes a person can be allergic to a component of the vaccine, although this is relatively rare. For patients undergoing chemotherapy or who have a compromised immune system for another medical reason, a vaccination may place additional strain on an already weakened immune system. These groups rely on others to vaccinate themselves to help build what is called “herd immunity” in the population. This makes the disease less prevalent overall, so these vulnerable people have less chance of being exposed to an infectious disease that could cause severe harm or even death for them.
- Vaccines help eradicate illnesses. By vaccinating, the chance of catching the illness is smaller and fewer people are susceptible to transmission. As a result, vaccines have led to the eradication of diseases like smallpox and have resulted in far fewer cases of polio and measles around the world.
- Vaccine strength fades with time. In the same way muscle strength fades if you don’t exercise regularly, vaccination strength fades as well. The potency of a vaccination decreases over time because the cells that were exposed to the vaccine eventually die and are replaced with newer cells. These newer cells lack the antibodies from the vaccination and are more susceptible to infectious disease. Booster shots are sometimes recommended for adults to ensure continued immunity, such as for tetanus or pneumonia.
At your annual physical or next appointment, talk to your primary care provider about what vaccines you may need.
Need a flu shot? Henry Ford Health offers walk-in flu shots at these locations.
Dr. Katarzyna Budzynska is a family medicine doctor, who sees patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Harbortown and at the Henry Ford Quick Care Clinic, both in Detroit.