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A critical, but possibly overlooked, component of an adult’s health plan is vaccines and booster shots.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of adults who received an influenza vaccination in 2016 declined 3% from a year earlier. Still, 70% of those 65 and older got a flu shot that year. The number of adults vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, shingles and HPV have slowly increased, but remain at 15-33%.

“Adults need their vaccines, but many are not receiving them,” said Dr. Michele Keller, a family medicine physician on staff at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and Community Hospital in Munster. “Vaccines are the best defense for protection from several serious and/or deadly diseases.”

She encourages all people 18 and older to discuss their vaccination history with their primary care doctors: “Vaccines are critical to preventing long-term illness, hospitalization and death, especially from influenza and pneumonia. Vaccines can also reduce the spread of disease, such as whooping cough and meningitis.”

According to the CDC, updated vaccines are vitally important for those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease and a weakened immune system, and smokers who are more likely to develop complications from the diseases the vaccines prevent.

“These complications lead to hospitalizations, long-term illness and death,” Keller explained. “Being sick is also costly in terms of medical visits and treatments. Adults miss work, need babysitters and lose income.”

Dr. Isidora Nantes, a family physician in Gary and Merrillville with the Methodist Physician Group, recommends vaccinations and boosters according to age groups.

“Age matters when we’re talking vaccinations,” Nantes said. “There are medical reasons you should get certain boosters depending on your age.”

Her recommendations include:

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  • HPV vaccine, age 18-26
  • Tetanus booster, age 18-35 (and every 10 years afterward)
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) booster, age 55 or when around newborns (caregiver or grandparent)
  • Influenza, every year beginning at 18
  • Pneumococcal vaccines, age 50 or older, depending on the patient's health

Nantes emphasized that the whooping cough booster is a must for pregnant women and those about to be around newborns.

She added that it doesn't matter where the patient gets the vaccines — a pharmacy or urgent care clinic is OK — as long as the patient informs his or her primary care physician. This ensures "accurate records are available. In case you switch doctors or move, you want to be certain what vaccines you received and when,” Nantes said.

Besides being uninformed about the need, adults also can be afraid to get vaccinations.

“I begin by asking my patient what specifically concerns them,” said Dr. Raphael Albert, a family practitioner with the Methodist Physician Group. “Are you worried about becoming ill? Are you concerned about your liver or some specific organ? What is the basis for your fear?

“I never minimize a patient's concern. If it is real to you, then we need to treat it that way. But the numbers I present make the large majority of fearful patients feel relieved.”

According to the World Health Organization, adverse reaction statistics for vaccines include:

  • Measles, one reaction per 1 million vaccines
  • Polio, one per 2-3 million
  • DTP (whooping cough), one in 750,000
  • BCG (tuberculosis), one in 50,000

“When we use data to confront concerns, we eliminate opinions and deal with facts,” Albert said. “It’s important for people to know how minimal the risk is, and why it’s better for them to get vaccinated at any adult age.”

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