By Patricia Deal
Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center public affairs
The medical professionals at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center encourage everyone to remain diligent about immunizations. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. still die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it. Vaccines prevent disease in the people who get the vaccine, and protect those who come into contact with unvaccinated individuals. Vaccines save lives, period," said Col. Mark Croley, chief of pediatrics at Darnall.
Vaccines have side effects, but most are temporary and minor. Croley said the benefits of immunizations far outweigh the risks.
Croley said it's important to know which shots are needed and when to get them so parents should check with their providers or school districts.
The general guideline, according to the CDC, is that children younger than 6 years old get a series of shots to protect against measles, polio, chicken pox and hepatitis. All 11- and 12-year-olds need shots to help protect against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and meningitis.
Girls should get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine to protect against the most common cause of cervical cancer.
Vaccination records in the military health care system are kept electronically so patients have access wherever they go.
"If you don't have a record or there's any doubt as to whether or not your child has had a particular vaccine, it's best to redo the immunization," Croley said "It's perfectly safe to re-dose. Plus, we do have tests that can determine what antibodies are in your system."
Some adults wrongly assume the vaccines they received as children will protect them for the rest of their lives, according to a disease control survey. However, medical evidence shows immunity can begin to fade over time and as adults age, they become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections such as the flu, pneumococcus and shingles.
"There have been several important changes to adult vaccine recommendations recently. Of note, adults age 65 and older who have close contact with an infant aged less than 12 months should get vaccinated with DTaP (combined diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines) due to the risk of transmitting pertussis or whooping cough, a highly contagious disease, said Lt. Col. Soo Kim-Delio, chief of the Allergy/Immunization Clinic at Thomas Moore Clinic.
Even if adults are not around infants, adults 65 and older should receive DTaP. While DTaP is already approved for people 11 through 64 years old as a one-time booster, it can be administered regardless of interval, since current shots will have the latest tetanus or diphtheria-colera vaccine.
All adults who do not have an immunity to varicella (chicken pox) should receive two doses of the vaccine if not previously vaccinated, or a second dose if they have received only one dose in their lifetime, said Kim-Delio, unless there is a medical reason not to have the vaccine.
"When we think of chicken pox, we usually think of kids with the classic rash, but adolescents and adults are actually more at risk for this severe disease. Complications include bacterial infection of the skin, swelling of the brain and pneumonia," she said.
Another important immunization for adults is the zoster (shingles) vaccine, which is recommended for adults 60 and older regardless of whether they report a previous episode of herpes zoster. Persons with chronic medical conditions may be vaccinated unless they are likely to have an adverse reaction.
"Recently, the shingles vaccine was approved down to 50 years of age. While the CDC has not changed its vaccine recommendation at this time, the immunization Clinic at Thomas Moore Clinic is offering this vaccine to all patients 50 and over who qualify," Kim-Delio said.