The word “immunization” has long evoked images of nervous children wincing as they get injections to protect them from measles, mumps and other diseases.
We recently spoke to Dr. Ruth Haskins, president-elect of the California Medical Association, about why vaccines are important for adults and what is being done to increase their vaccination rates. A condensed version of the conversation is below.
Q: How big of a problem is the lack of vaccinations among adults?
It literally is a life-and-death issue. There are people dying from flu. It is completely preventable if everybody was to get the influenza vaccine during the flu season.
Q: What other vaccines are recommended for adults?
Shingles vaccine. Ninety-three percent of adults have had varicella in their childhood. If they had chicken pox as a child, it can come back as shingles as an adult. It can cause blindness, it can cause pain that is not consolable and it can also cause death. It is preventable with a vaccine. The simple varicella vaccine is very effective at preventing shingles.
By the time they reach 80 to 90 years old, 50 percent of people not vaccinated will have an episode with shingles. That is huge. Because our life expectancy, especially as women, is 85 now, it is very important for older women to get the shingles vaccine.
For shingles, all adults over age 50 should consider it. All people, as long as they don’t have a contraindication, should have the influenza vaccine.
To see more about Shingles and a 4 minute video – click here Shingles are Painful and Preventable – Information and Vide0
Q: Why don’t more adults get vaccinated?
I think it is misinformation. I think they are looking at the sensationalized information about the folks who are … against vaccines. They are paying more attention to the stuff that makes headlines than they are to their own physician, who only cares about public health.
At the California Medical Association Foundation, our role is to educate people that you don’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. And absolutely the flu vaccine does not cause autism or cause diseases. It helps prevent you from getting influenza. But more than that, it helps everybody else in the population from getting influenza.
Q: Is there also a sense of invincibility — people thinking they aren’t going to get the flu or they aren’t going to get shingles?
The thing I hear most often among my patients is, “I’ve never had the flu before so I’m not getting the vaccine.”
That just really ignores herd immunization — the fact [is] that the more who are vaccinated, the less you see the disease.
Q: How could the public service announcement help increase vaccination rates among adults?
I hope it starts to get people talking. I hope that just seeing the happy faces on the [public service announcement] of people getting vaccinated, especially people of a variety of ages and stages of life, they recognize it’s not just for kids.
The take-home message I wish everybody would have from the [public service announcement] is “Maybe I should be getting vaccinated, maybe it’s for me too.” These are adults who are happy and healthy. It’s not just for sick people, and it’s not just for kids.
Q: What else is being done to increase vaccination rates among adults?
A good electronic medical record system will prompt a physician to give the vaccines when they are due. Even better systems send out widespread notices to patient populations automatically to tell them it’s time for their flu vaccine.
In some states, Pharmacists can administer vaccines as well.
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