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Vaccines as Part of Preventative Health

By Arthur Allen
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The free gift that the San Francisco Giants offered to fans who showed up for a game with the Cincinnati Reds last August probably didn’t attract a big crowd, since it involved a procedure that most people shun whenever possible: It was a booster shot.

Throughout the game, California Department of Public Health nurses were administering the Tdap vaccination, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough), at first aid stations in the Giants’ AT&T Park. Although the shot stung, as a giveaway it was worth a lot more than a bobblehead doll or an inflatable baseball bat.

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Like other vaccines designed for adults, the Tdap vaccine protects the people who get it, but also their friends, children and aging parents. The free Tdap clinic occurred in the midst of a public health tragedy in California -- the worst epidemic of whooping cough reported since 1947. The outbreak killed 10 babies and sickened more than 8,300 children and adults in 2010, and it continues in California and other states.

The Little-Known Benefits of Adult Vaccines

Tdap is one of several vaccines that offer adults a reasonably inexpensive and valuable protection against disease. We’re all aware of the fact that infants and toddlers are required to be vaccinated against bugs such as influenza, measles, mumps rubella, chickenpox, polio, pneumococcus, and viral hepatitis. But adults need protection from some of the same diseases.

In 2010, the CDC’s vaccine policy group, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recommended that everyone 6 months of age and older get an annual shot against influenza, or flu.  “Should you get the flu vaccine? The answer is yes,” said William Schaffner, MD, chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. Besides young infants less than 6 months old, exceptions, he said, should include people with serious egg allergies. People who have had a life-threatening or serious allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine or to any of its components should not be vaccinated.  Talk to your provider before getting the vaccine if you have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome or are moderately or severely ill.

Flu kills thousands of adults every year; people over 65 are among those at greatest risk for severe complications from flu, including death. Although the immune systems of the elderly may not respond as effectively to the flu vaccine and other shots, vaccination can still protect against serious complications. Another way to protect the elderly, it turns out, is to vaccinate their close contacts such as children and grandchildren. If the younger ones remain healthy, they are less likely to spread the flu to their elders.

Whooping Cough Returns

With whooping cough a growing problem in the United States, the CDC also now recommends that all adults get a one-time Tdap booster followed with Td (covering tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years. In the past, adults were urged to get a Td booster only every 10 years. But it has become clear that pertussis bacteria continue to circulate.

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