Immunization experts to adults: Vaccines are ‘not just for kids
While it’s well known the good immunizations do, there are three vaccines of particular importance for military service members and their families. Military Health System officials want people to be more aware of vaccines for meningitis, the flu and shingles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan)
While it’s well known the good immunizations do, there are three vaccines of particular importance for military service members and their families. Military Health System (MHS) officials want people to be more aware of vaccines for meningitis, the flu and shingles.
“I was deployed to pretty much every corner of the world in my over 30 years of Naval service, so I know firsthand [the impact of] pretty much all the diseases which are preventable today through vaccines,” said Dr. Jay Montgomery, chief of Clinical Operations at Defense Health Agency’s Immunization Healthcare Branch (DHA-IHB). “Immunizations are important not just for kids, but through throughout one’s whole life for optimal health.”
Recommended immunizations for those 18 and older are determined by age, lifestyle, occupation, health conditions, international travel and previously received vaccines.
"Routine vaccinations have saved more lives throughout the world than any other medical invention,” said Army Col. Margaret Yacovone, DHA-IHB chief. “Along with preventive services and health screenings, getting immunized is our best defense against many serious illnesses and preventable diseases.”
Montgomery said that although certain diseases might be unusual in the United States, they can be very common somewhere else in the world. Due to the ease of travel, people can still be exposed to these locally uncommon germs.
“The two-edged sword of a successful immunization program is that we prevent the diseases for many, many years and people forget how bad they are,” said Montgomery, who stressed that the only vaccine preventable illness that has been eradicated is smallpox.
Bacterial meningitis, a very serious and possibly life-threatening disease that can infect the brain and blood, can pass from person to person through lengthy or close contact, such as coughing or kissing. It is especially transmittable among those living in close quarters. The meningococcal vaccine helps protect against the four most prevalent strains of Meningitis found in the United States. A single dose of a this vaccine helps protect against the primary strains and should be given to all 11- to 12-year olds, said Montgomery, who also recommends a booster shot at age 16. A vaccine to protect against the B strain, which has appeared on college campuses and a major theme park, was recently approved by the FDA. Teens and young adults 16 through 23 can also be immunized with this vaccine.
"Meningococcal disease is not a disease you want to take risks with,” said Montgomery.
A lesser known vaccination is the shingles immunization. Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash to appear on the torso, neck or face. Shingles is triggered by the same virus that causes Chicken Pox, leaving anyone who has had Chicken Pox at risk for developing it. Montgomery said up to one million cases of shingles occur each year in the United States.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for those who have a weak immune system or are 50 and older, as it is most common in older adults. It can help reduce the severity and duration of the infection, as well as decrease the chance of complications.
The flu, on the other hand, is much more common and typically most active from October to early spring. Vaccines are developed each year in attempt to match the predicted flu virus strains of that season, said Montgomery. These vaccinations do not guarantee complete protection against the germs, but they can help prevent complications or hospitalization.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of public health experts and medical professionals who develop vaccination recommendations, advises seasonal influenza vaccinations for those six months of age and older.
“We have lots of tools to keep our immune system in tip-top shape,” said Montgomery, encouraging people to use all tools at their disposal, such as getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising. “Immunizations are just one more tool you can use to ensure good health.”