April 1, 2015 12:54 AM

Dr. Stephanie Aldret
Adult vaccinations: you’re never too old to roll up your sleeves.

In the battle to immunize children, experts are noting that the very adults preaching vaccinations may not be getting them at all.

The percentage of adults vaccinated against ailments that put the population at risk is dismal — think less than 18 percent of adults in the last eight years for a vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

While most adults know about the yearly flu shot, there is a lineup of several more that most grown ups need post-childhood.

“Our immunity that we get from immunizations as kids can wean or lessen over time, and the majority of people’s immune system weakens over time anyway due to lifestyle,” says Dr. Stephanie Aldret, who practices family medicine at Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

When Aldret refers to lifestyle that includes high fat and high-carb diets, sedentary lifestyle, stress, decreased sleep, obesity, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use. Add to that diseases like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema and the risk of contracting one of the illnesses prevented by a vaccine adds up.

“We destroy our own bodies over time or they just start to give out,” Aldret says. “The loss of immunity and weakened immune systems put us at risk for certain diseases — influenza, pneumonia, shingles — plus weakened immune systems don’t recover quickly either.”

While the risk to adults is clear when we don’t get vaccinated, the concern for children in the population (particularly those whose parents choose not to vaccinate them) is another reality. Even if a healthy adult fares well against whooping cough or the flu, the young and the frail or elderly do not.

The anti-vaccination movement has blossomed in the last decade and a half with concerns about the connection between autism symptoms and 18-month immunizations. A renewed awareness about what we put into our bodies certainly feeds into the concerns about vaccinations and what they contain. Pair that with a world in which most people (if any) have never seen the lethal results of an outbreak of diseases once dead and it’s a recipe for low immunization rates.

“Parents should fear the diseases that we vaccinate against,” Aldret says. “Measles is a highly contagious virus that can survive on surfaces for hours. Mumps can cause sterility. Polio is crippling. Meningitis, measles, pertussis, rubella and polio are deadly.”


The adult immunization schedule

Basic adult immunizations can protect not only those who receive the shots, but the portion of the population that is high risk — young, elderly and frail.

Flu: annually

Pneumonia: Once after 65 (maybe more often depending on health and risks)

Shingles: Once after 60

Tetanus: Every 5-10 years

Pertussis: Included in tetanus booster

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