January 23, 2008

CDC Says Adults Not Keeping Up With Vaccines

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control has warned that adults are not keeping up with their vaccinations.   Many either aren't aware or have skipped vaccinations important in preventing many illnesses.  

Despite widespread publicity of the availability of several new vaccines, including those for shingles, cervical cancer and whooping cough, a recent survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that aside from the flu, most adults have trouble even naming diseases that could be prevented with a simple inoculation.

"There are not yet very many adults taking full advantage of the great advancements in prevention that have been made in the past few years," Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Associated Press. "By skipping vaccinations, people are leaving themselves needlessly vulnerable to significant illness, long-term suffering and even death."

According to a new CDC report, only about 2 percent of Americans over 60 received the vaccine against shingles during its first year of sales.  Yet there are more than 1 million new cases of shingles each year, with up to 200,000 suffering a particularly bad type of nerve pain that can persist for months or even years. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk, especially once they are in their 60s.

The report also found that only 2 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 got a booster shot against whooping cough, a bacterial infection also known as pertussis, in the two years since the vaccine hit the market. The illness is making a comeback, because the vaccine given to babies and toddlers starts wearing off by adolescence.  Older patients usually recover, but can suffer weeks of misery and can easily spread the illness to not-yet-vaccinated infants at risk of dying from the infection.

The whooping cough booster was added to another shot recommended for adults, a combination booster against tetanus and diphtheria. The new vaccine is called "Tdap".

The report further showed that only 10 percent of women ages 18 to 26 have received one or more doses of a three-shot series that protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer.

Even among seniors, who are more vulnerable to illness, the vaccination rates leave room for improvement.  The CDC said that just 69 percent of seniors get the flu shot; 66 percent have had a one-time pneumonia vaccine; and only 44 percent had received a tetanus shot in the past 10 years.

Price may be an important part of the problem.  The shingles shot costs around $150, and the HPV vaccine is about $300.  Insurance coverage varies, and there is no national program to guarantee access for adults who can't afford vaccines.

However, since adults aren't even receiving some of the least costly vaccines, price is not seen as the primary reason adults are not keeping up with vaccinations.


On the Net:

Centers for Disease Control