A new report finds an alarmingly low rate of vaccinations among U.S. adults and seniors
Vaccines have been bombarding the news cycle as of late. First, there was the announcement that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would give $10 billion over the next decade toward developing and delivering vaccines. Most explosive was the news that a high-profile study linking vaccines to autism was being retracted. Both stories inevitably focus on vaccines in young children. The money being donated by the Gates' is specifically being put toward vaccinating children in the developing world; the autism-vaccine link is a concern for parents of young children. But now comes vaccine-related news geared specifically toward a much older demographic.
Public health officials are troubled by how few American adults are receiving recommended vaccines. The biggest cause of concern is seniors who are not immunized for pneumonia, a condition to which senior citizens can be particularly vulnerable. A report by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that more than 30 percent of adults over 65 hadn't been immunized for pneumonia; under 2 percent had been immunized for shingles, a very painful disease that causes a blistering skin rash; and under 70 percent had received the pneumococcal vaccine, which is far short of the CDC's goal of a 90 percent vaccination rate for seniors.
Since people's immunity weakens over time, adults need to receive both vaccines and “booster” shots for diseases they were immunized from as kids. As people grow older, they become increasingly vulnerable to conditions like heart disease, diabetes and liver disease, and those conditions in turn make them more susceptible to the flu or pneumonia, diseases that vaccinations can protect them from. But for myriad reasons, adults get immunized far less than children. Some people have limited access to places that provide vaccines; or can't afford them because insurance companies don't tend to provide much preventative care for adults. Others believe the same misinformation about children and vaccines applies to adults, also: that they're unsafe or ineffective. Whereas the U.S. has several programs in place to ensure that infants and children receive vaccinations, few such campaigns are targeted at grown-ups.
The TFAH, IDSA and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation included in its report several recommendations to turn the tide toward more vaccinations for adults. The groups are urging the government to create a “Vaccines for Uninsured Adults” program, that would include, among other things, coverage for preventative vaccines to everyone receiving Medicare benefits. The government should also ramp up funding for state and local governments to get the word out about vaccination campaigns. Programs at the local level often have the most success, the groups write. Adults often put so much care and attention toward getting their kids vaccinated, it's hard to believe that so many of them don't take similar time to protect themselves.