You likely know the children in your family need vaccinations, but did you know adults need to keep their vaccines up to date as well?
According to Andrew Brown, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Piedmont Physicians Group, maintaining a vaccination schedule is a key to preventing serious illness. In fact, experts say we have vaccinations to thank for eradicating certain diseases, such as smallpox.
Even as a healthy adult, it is important to keep your vaccines current so you do not spread illness to vulnerable members of your family and the general public. If you did not receive a vaccine as a child, you could be at risk for serious complications should you contract the illness as an adult.
“Immunizations are the most important weapons we have against common diseases that at one time we feared,” says Dr. Brown.
Vaccinations for Adults
- Pneumonia (for adults ages 65 and older)
- Influenza (flu)
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster
- Varicella-zoster (chicken pox)
- Meningococcal disease
Common Flu Shot Misconceptions
Dr. Brown says there are a few common misconceptions about vaccines, particularly the flu shot.
“Some people will refuse to get a flu shot because of the misconception that it causes the flu,” he says. “In general, there is a two-week window between when you get the vaccine and when your body develops the immunity it needs to fight the flu. If you’ve already been exposed or become exposed to the virus during that time, you can come down with the flu.”
Additionally, there are some strains of influenza that yearly flu shots do not protect against. However, the most important thing to remember is that the vaccine will not actually give you the flu and the benefits far outweigh the risks for most people.
How Vaccinations Prevent Illness
“Vaccinations turn on the immune system to fight infection,” says Dr. Brown. “Whether it’s a virus, bacteria or fungus, our body is exposed to antigens every day. As these antigens invade our bodies, we have special cells that see them as foreign, so they produce chemicals called antibodies. They then fight those antigens. Once that ‘war’ is over, antibodies will lay at rest in your body for the rest of your life.”
Experts developed vaccinations with this understanding of how the immune system functions.
“Only parts of bacteria or viruses are used to create a vaccine, not full viruses or bacteria,” he says. “In most cases, you are not getting live viruses or bacteria.”
There are some vaccines, called attenuated vaccines, that contain live, but weakened, virus particles. Common attenuated vaccines include the MMR, chicken pox and nasal spray flu vaccines.
Certain people, such as pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems, should not get attenuated vaccines.
“My recommendation to patients is to ask their physician, ‘Is this a live virus vaccination?’ I’m a big advocate for patients to be proactive and ask questions,” says Dr. Brown. “Healthcare is a partnership between the patient and the provider. Your doctor doesn’t mind you asking questions – and you should ask.”
Vaccinations and Public Health
“Each individual needs to make a personal decision about whether or not to get vaccinated,” he says. “They need to be cognizant of their duty to society and their loved ones, especially children or those with a weakened immune system. Each person they come in contact with on a daily basis may be a carrier of infectious disease.”
Unfortunately, because many of the diseases doctors vaccinate against are rare, some people choose to forgo vaccinations.
“Should an illness be reintroduced into society, an epidemic could easily run rampant,” says Dr. Brown. “Just because we don’t see these illnesses often, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated. In modern medicine, we have the ability to prevent these diseases.”
Vaccination Side Effects
“Always call your physician if there’s some question about side effects within a few weeks of getting a vaccination,” he says.
Common mild side effects include:
- Swelling at the injection site
- Soreness at the injection site
“My recommendation is to have a frank discussion with your primary care physician and be honest about your lifestyle, particularly alcohol consumption, recreation drug usage and sexual activity,” says Dr. Brown. “These are factors for determining whether you need HPV, hepatitis A or hepatitis B vaccinations. If possible, bring your immunization records from the health department. Your doctor will determine which vaccines are most appropriate as you transition through life.”
For more information about vaccinations, check out Piedmont’s Prevention Guidelines.