Vaccines aren’t just for kids. There are several routine vaccinations that still need booster shots into adulthood. While vaccines have reduced or eliminated many diseases that used to routinely kill babies, children and adults, the viruses and bacteria are still around. If your vaccinations are not current, you’re at risk for the diseases they cause. For example, the 1,182 cases of measles across 30 states, confirmed from Jan. to Aug. 2019, largely occurred in people who had not been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the United States, the CDC estimates that:

  • Since 2010, there have been 140,000 to 710,000 flu-related hospitalizations and up to 56,000 flu-related deaths.
  • About 900,000 people get pneumonia every year, leading to about 400,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths.
  • Chronic hepatitis B affects 700,000 to 1.4 million people; complications include liver cancer.
  • HPV causes over 27,000 cancers in women and men each year; 4,000 women die each year from cervical cancer.
  • Every year one million people get shingles, and some have severe pain that continues long after their rash clears up. Shingles can cause painful complications lasting for years.

All the pain, suffering and expense represented by these statistics could have been avoided by keeping vaccinations up to date. By working with your body’s natural defenses, vaccines help you safely develop an immunity to diseases.

Vaccinations also greatly lower your chances of spreading diseases. Babies, older people and those with weakened immune systems (if undergoing cancer treatment, for example) are especially at risk for diseases caused by infections.

If you have chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, vaccinations are especially important. These conditions make it harder to fight off certain diseases and set you up for serious complications.

What you need to be protected

These are the vaccines that the CDC recommends that all adults should have.

  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) (Tdap) for adults who have not had a Tdap vaccine – one dose followed by a Td booster every 10 years
  • Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) – every 10 years
  • Influenza (flu) – given once every year, it reduces your risk of flu by 30 – 40 % for each year you get a flu shot. Get your shot from September through November to protect yourself when flu is at its worst
  • Shingles (herpes zoster virus) – Shingrix requires two doses; recommend vaccine after age 50
  • Pneumonia (pneumococcal infections can cause pneumonia, meningitis, flood infections and death) – After age 65, one dose of PCV13 followed by one dose of PPSV23 at least a year later
  • Varicella (herpes virus that causes chicken pox and shingles) – adults should have two doses
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – three doses, up to age 45 and if given after the age of 14; if first dose is before age 14, only two doses required
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) – one to two doses if you were born after 1957 or never vaccinated and never had these diseases

If you have other risk factors, your doctor may also recommend:

  • Meningococcal (meningitis) – one or two doses
  • Hepatitis A – two or three doses
  • Hepatitis B – two or three doses
  • Hib – one to three doses

If you’re planning an overseas trip, check with the UAMS Travel Medicine Clinic, the CDC or your doctor about what vaccines you’ll need. Include all the areas to which you will be traveling. You will be required to show proof of immunization to enter some countries.

Vaccine records

A lifetime of vaccines and dates is a lot of detail to keep up with. Unfortunately, and there’s no national group that maintains vaccination records. If your doctor is not keeping track of your vaccinations and booster shots, you may want to keep your own records. Download this blank form from the Immunization Action Coalition. When completed, keep it with your important health papers. When you visit a new health care provider, ask them to copy it and place in your medical records.

When you were vaccinated as a child, your parents were given a card or paper showing what you were given and the dates. Your vaccinations should also be listed in your medical records. If you cannot find this information, check with your high school or college health services, military service or state health departments where you have lived.

If you cannot find your records, it is safe to repeat vaccines. It’s also possible to do blood tests to see if you are immune to certain – but not all – vaccine-preventable diseases.

Paying for vaccines

Every dollar spent on vaccines to prevent diseases saves many more dollars. Vaccines reduce suffering and hospitalizations and fewer deaths occur. Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective health care actions you can take.

But nothing is free, so what are your options for paying for vaccines?

  • All Health Insurance Marketplace plans and most private insurance plans/job-based plans cover certain vaccines with no copayment or coinsurance from you. This is true even if you have not met your yearly deductible. However, vaccines must be given by an in-network provider.
  • Medicare Part B will pay for vaccines for flu, pneumonia, hepatitis B if you are at increased risk, and vaccines directly related to the treatment of an injury of direct exposure to a disease.
  • Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage Part C plans that offer drug coverage may cover shingles, MMR and Tdap vaccines.
  • Medicaid covers some adult vaccines.
  • Service in the military, or if you are a military dependent, qualifies you for TRICARE, which covers vaccines according to CDC recommendations.
  • Check with your local county health department office about free or low-cost vaccines if you do not have health insurance.

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