Health organizations warn adults that immunizations aren't just for children


Children aren't the only ones who need vaccinations against serious illnesses. Adults need them too, say three Blue Cross and Blue Shield health maintenance organizations.

Carefirst, FreeState Health Plan and Potomac Health, which have health centers in Howard County, recently mailed about 5,000 fact sheets encouraging adult immunizations. "We're doing very well with pediatric immunizations," said Greta Brand, health education manager for CFS Health Group, which manages the three HMOs. "We wanted to bring immunization a step further."

Adults are immunized against serious illnesses like pneumonia and influenza in far smaller numbers than children, she said.

The HMOs said a recent review of the charts of 1,500 child members revealed that 94 percent are completely vaccinated. But up to half of Americans over 50 are inadequately immunized against tetanus and diphtheria, she said.

Ms. Brand said also that many patients may need vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella for women who plan to have children, diphtheria and tetanus. Adults who are 65 and older also need an annual flu shot.

"Adults born after 1956 may need a revaccination for measles, and all adults need a tetanus booster shot every 10 years," Ms. Brand said.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control, more than 7 million young adults are not protected against measles and mumps; more than 11 million women of childbearing age are not vaccinated against rubella; and more than half of all adults lack immunization against diphtheria. The CDC also reports that 30 percent of those 65 and older are immunized against influenza, and only 14 percent are immunized against pneumonia.

Ms. Brand said most adults don't consider vaccinations because they believe they are adequately protected.

"People think once they have a shot at age five, they're set for life," she said. "People are not even thinking it's an issue."

Inadequate immunization can have "serious ramifications," Ms. Brand said.

An estimated half million Americans have died as a result of influenza epidemics during the last 20 years, and pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza are a major cause of adult illness and death. Americans also lose more than 15 million work days annually as a result of illness from influenza.

"Not everybody has two weeks of sick leave," Ms. Brand said.

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