Disease prevention is an important focus of modern health care. As a physician, I want to identify potential problems and head them off to prevent more serious health concerns.
Vaccinations are one tool we use to keep the population healthy. Vaccines today are used to control many infectious diseases that were once common, such as polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, rubella, mumps and tetanus.
For children, and even college students, some vaccinations are required to attend school, but it is also important that kids receive vaccines that are recommended as well as what is required.
For example, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is recommended but not required for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years. The HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over six months. Administering the vaccinations at these ages gives the body time to develop immunity.
For college students planning to live on campus, many institutions require up-to-date immunizations including the meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine. While specific policies at colleges and universities may differ, recommendations from the American College Health Association (ACHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that all incoming students be immunized before college enrollment against the following illnesses: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, Tdap — which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough, Hepatitis A and B.)
We often associate vaccinations with children, since many are delivered at a young age to build immunity over a lifetime. But adults too should keep track of their immunizations and follow recommended guidelines for booster shots and other vaccines.
For example, we used to just immunize kids for Tdap, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough), and then give kids a booster of tetanus and diphtheria. Then we started to see a resurgence of whooping cough in the population. Now, we recommend a one-time adult booster of the Tdap vaccination.
Other important vaccinations for adults include the pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine, which is recommended for adults with a history of asthma, smoking, diabetes, liver disease or immune suppression. Those without risk factors should receive the pneumonia vaccine at age 65. If the pneumonia vaccine is received before age 65, a one-time booster is recommended five or more years after the original vaccination.
Older patients should also receive Zostavax for shingles, which is recommended for adults at and/or over the age of 60, even if they have already had shingles.
Receiving the annual influenza vaccine is recommended for children 6 months of age and older and adults. The flu vaccine typically becomes available in the fall, around September or October. For those 65 or older, I recommend a Fluzone High Dose vaccine designed specifically for older adults. As we age, our immune systems weaken which puts us at greater risk for infection and complications from the flu. The Fluzone High Dose provides a higher dose for those patients at greater risk.
If you are unsure of the right immunization plan for you or your child, talk to your doctor about what is right for you and create a plan. A patient and doctor have to decide the plan that is best for the individual.