Everyone wants to be healthy, especially as we age. About half of what makes us healthy is our own behavior, followed by our genetics, our environment and our ability to access care. How we age is dependent on these factors, many of them things over which we have control.
One of the best ways to be healthy while we age is simple: Don’t get sick. Not only does getting sick make you feel bad in the short term, sometimes illness can have long-lasting effects such as pain after shingles, long-term coughing from pertussis (whooping cough) or generalized weakness after any illness that puts you in bed for a while.
We can wash our hands, avoid sick people and stay home if we do feel sick, but the best way to not get sick and avoid possible long-term health problems is to get vaccinated against certain illnesses and disease.
Vaccinations are not just for babies and children! Adults also benefit from vaccine protection from illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia, shingles, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). Some of the vaccines we received as a child may not still be protective because their effectiveness fades over time or there are newer, better vaccines now. We also become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections such as flu and pneumococcus as we age.
As adults, protecting ourselves from these diseases also can provide protection for others around us who are not able to be vaccinated. The chance of spreading disease is lower when adults have received the recommended vaccinations.
Each year, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) reviews the vaccinations recommended for adults over the age of 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes the immunization schedule for adults recommended by ACIP. According to ACIP, all adults should get an annual flu vaccine to protect against seasonal flu. All adults should also get a Td/Dtap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccination. Based on your age, health conditions, vaccines you received as a child and other factors, you may need additional vaccines, including:
HPV (human papillomavirus)
MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
There may be additional vaccines to consider if you are traveling overseas, depending on the location. Go to http://www.cdc.gov for information on vaccines for international travel.
Adult Idahoans are doing better than the national average in getting vaccinated for certain diseases such as pneumococcal, herpes zoster and tetanus. However, there is still a substantial burden of disease among adults for which vaccines are available. To reduce those diseases and their impact in our state, organizations and clinics are spearheading efforts to increase vaccinations in adults. They will be partnering with the Division of Public Health, local public health districts and the Idaho Immunization Coalition to meet these goals. Watch for more information about those efforts.
One example of the type of work being done is a project conducted by Qualis Health to improve vaccination rates in seniors. As many as 77,000 eligible seniors (a third of Medicare beneficiaries in Idaho) do not receive recommended pneumonia vaccinations. Qualis Health was recently awarded a Medicare contract to improve immunization rates for seniors. The work is part of Qualis Health’s Practice Innovation Network, which engages physicians and their patients to improve cardiovascular health and manage chronic illnesses through improved clinical workflow and the use of electronic health records. Additional doctors (as well as home health agencies and critical access hospitals) are being recruited to broaden the network’s scope to include assessing immunization status and providing immunizations.
Qualis Health’s significant experience integrating health information technology and quality improvement methods will help doctors adopt best practices for immunization and make a difference for patients and families.
But don’t wait for your doctor to recommend a vaccine. Ask about what your specific needs might be. Staying healthy is important. If you want to stay healthy and age well, talk to your health-care provider about the immunizations appropriate for you.
Elke Shaw-Tulloch, master of health sciences, is the state health officer and Division of Public Health administrator with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Find out more about Department of Health and Welfare services at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.