Cynthia Lowe, MD, is a family medicine physician at Banner Health Center in Maricopa. For more information on this topic, consult with your doctor or call Dr. Lowe at
Question: It seems like there are so many vaccinations out there - how do I know which ones I need?
Answer: Today’s medical advancements have virtually eliminated the spread of some very dangerous diseases because researchers and medical professionals have discovered ways to protect the public through vaccinations. While people might associate immunizations with small children, adults can also protect themselves and their loved ones by getting immunized.
Several different vaccinations are available and recommended for adults in different age, gender and health categories. Influenza is probably the most well-known illness that can typically be avoided with immunization. Individuals six months and older should receive the flu vaccine annually, which is widely available in multiple convenient locations. Not only can your family physician administer the vaccine, but you can also visit most neighborhood pharmacies for a flu shot.
For older children and young adults, a vaccine to protect against meningitis is suggested. If your child is an adolescent or has reached his or her 20s, discuss the value of getting this vaccine with your pediatrician or family practitioner.
With regard to women, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is suggested for young women up to age 26, to help guard against the most common cause of cervical cancer. And while most individuals in the U.S. have been immunized against measles, mumps and rubella, females who plan to become pregnant should confirm they are immune to rubella. Finally, new mothers or any adult with a baby in the household should have a booster against pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough.
Today, most children are protected against chicken pox with the varicella vaccine, a part of their well-child immunization schedule. Adults, however, may not have received this vaccine in childhood. If an adult never had the chicken pox, it is important to get the varicella vaccine to protect against an illness that can be dangerous if contracted in adulthood.
In addition to an annual flu shot, adults over 60 should have the zoster vaccine to shield them from shingles, a painful and preventable condition that can lead to other health complications. Individuals in their 60s and older should also get immunized against pneumonia, which can be deadly to seniors who are more likely to have other underlying health conditions.
The best way to lessen the spread of serious illness is to take full advantage of available vaccines and be properly immunized. Taking this step is particularly important for adults who provide care for children or individuals with compromised immune systems. For example, even if an adult has a strong immune system, if he or she contracts an illness like pertussis and spends time around infants, the disease could be life-threatening to a child. Getting vaccinated not only protects the health of the adult but is also the most effective measure to insulate those who are highly vulnerable to illness.
At your annual physical, take time to discuss with your doctor the advantages of and any risks associated with immunizations. Together, you and your physician can to determine which vaccines will be most beneficial to you based on your age, health history and lifestyle.