Many Young Adults Uninformed About Vaccines

WEDNESDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Vaccines are not only for children, but many young adults in the United States are unaware of the need to keep up with their shots, a new survey shows.

For example, while 84 percent of Americans over 50 know that tetanus causes lockjaw and that they need to get a new tetanus shot every 10 years, only 49 percent of adults aged 18 to 26 know this, according to a survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).

"Over 50,000 adults die in the United States each year as the result of diseases that are potentially vaccine-preventable," Dr. William Schaffner, NFID president-elect, said during a Wednesday morning news conference.

"Many millions more become sick and require hospitalization and medical care," Schaffner added. "Some may pass these illnesses on to others. The survey revealed that adults are complacent about vaccine-preventable diseases."

While many adults are keeping up with some of their vaccinations, vaccination rates are still below national target levels, according to the survey.

"To me personally, the results [of the survey] are disappointing, but not surprising," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during the news conference.

For example, only 20 percent of those surveyed knew about pneumococcal disease. This vaccine-preventable disease kills up to 4,500 adults in the United States every year.

Schaffner is concerned that as young adults have children, vaccine rates will drop even further and diseases that have been largely eliminated in the United States will re-emerge.

Especially troubling is the lack of vaccination awareness among 18- to 26-year-olds. Only 30 percent of young adults knew that the flu, which is preventable with a vaccine, kills almost 40,000 Americans a year, more than any other vaccine-preventable disease. However, 59 percent of those over 50 are aware of the benefit of flu vaccine, according to the survey.

For all Americans, vaccination levels are too low, experts say. For example, among those aged 60 and older influenza and pneumococcal vaccination levels remain at 66.6 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

Additionally, only about 10 percent of women aged 19 to 26 have been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, which can prevent 70 percent of cervical cancers. And only 15 percent of those aged 19 to 64 have received the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

A Tdap booster is recommended in place of one tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccine, which should be given every 10 years.

Another concern is the racial and ethnic disparities in vaccination levels among those aged 65 and older. Among whites, the national average for having a flu shot is 69 percent, but for blacks and Hispanics the rates are 53 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

The same is true for pneumococcal disease. Whites have higher vaccination levels than blacks and Hispanics, at 64 percent, 44 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

"It's clear we have a lot of room for improvement," NFID medical director, Dr. Susan J. Rehm, said during the news conference.

Getting people to get their vaccinations is a matter of awareness, Rehm said, and it is incumbent upon doctors to make sure their patients have the necessary vaccinations and booster shots.

"The majority of adults [87 percent] are very likely to get vaccinated if their doctor or other clinician advises that they get vaccinated," she said. "Our hope is that clinicians throughout the care continuum will become increasingly aware of adult vaccinations, and will spread the word to their patients."

More information

For more information on vaccines, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: July 22, 2009, teleconference with William Schaffner, M.D., president-elect, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and professor, preventive medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tenn.; Anne Schuchat, M.D., director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Susan J. Rehm, M.D., medical director, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and chair, Department of Infectious Diseases, Cleveland Clinic

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