Adult vaccination rates lower than expected

Winter time can be the most difficult when it comes to spreading germs and illness. Close quarters with others and a lack of good outdoor time make it easy to spread everything from pink eye to pneumonia and the flu. Logical preventative measures remind us everywhere through signs and posters–wash your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you have symptoms. However, one of our most long-standing preventative methods–vaccination–for both adults and some children is declining overall.

Pertussis, or whooping cough rates are on the rise across the country–the worst that many public health officials have seen in decades. This, in conjunction with rising flu rates for the season have the FDA and the CDC worried about how bad it could get, and they are encouraging everyone to seek out boosters and seasonal vaccines as soon as possible. The pneumonia vaccine can also be considered–according to a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation only 1/3 of American seniors age 65 and older took their one-time dose pneumonia vaccine in 2008.

Other rates that leave these organizations scratching their heads and reaching for the hand sanitizer? The Dtap vaccine–which includes diptheria, pertussis and tetanus showed only a 2.1% participation rate. Shingles vaccine was less than 2% overall, HPV (like Gardasil) was 10%, and seasonal flu–the most popular was still far below an expected range at 36%.

A consultant to the article cited lack of access as a primary reason for the low numbers, and focused on the fact that many adults don’t visit a physician for well check-ups but instead for sick visits only. It would seem that adults are simply being passed by in the whirlwind of childhood vaccinations…but could there be more to the story? Perhaps. The thought that a lack of resources are keeping adults from their shots is logical–after years of working in public health and vaccinating thousands of children, I saw virtually no adults, as our focus was for children only. For the few who needed vaccinations as adults, it was virtually impossible to find a clinician in the area who was able to bring them up to speed. Many insurance companies will not pay for vaccination boosters for adults and the single administration can be extremely costly if anyone could be found at all who was willing to do it.

Another possible cause for the low numbers? Many people simply shy away from vaccines. A simple “bad reaction” to a shot that lead to days in bed with fevers, weakness or body aches has led many to spread the word to friends and family members about their experience, which discourages others from seeking out the medication. Everyone knows someone who says “I’ll never take that shot again,” and then goes on to present a list of reasons to run away from the needle.

While vaccines have prevented decades of serious illness, they continue to hold a stigma that is difficult to erase. Many pharmaceutical companies work very hard to cover what they don’t want the general public to know about the medications they produce–leaving the majority to either suffer through the illness, or face the possible side effects of the shot.


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