Vaccines Aren't Just for Kids

By Dr. Sowmya Srinivasan for ABC News:

Many of us incorrectly assume that the vaccines we received as children will protect us for a lifetime. But immunity can fade with time.

Keeping your vaccines up to date can help protect you and your kids, and especially older adults and those with weakened immune systems, who are more susceptible to preventable illnesses.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 adults die each year from vaccine-preventable illnesses, according to a 2010 report from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that adult vaccine-preventable diseases cost about $10 billion annually in direct medical costs.

Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, hosted a Tweet Chat Tuesday to discuss the importance of adult immunizations with such passionate participants as the Mayo Clinic, the CDC, the American Medical Association, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, among others.

Click here for the full transcript of the chat. Read on for the highlights.

Do the elderly still need vaccines?

Older folks are more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases. Shingles and the flu, to name two, can be devastating to an elderly person, so immunization is key. Anyone over the age of 65 should receive an annual flu shot. Those over 65 can also benefit from one shot each of the pneumococcal vaccine and whooping cough, plus a shot of the tetanus/diphtheria immunization vaccine every 10 years. For those over 60, getting a shingles vaccine can also pay off.

What vaccines do young adults need?

Younger adults often feel their risk of disease is lower, so their vaccination rates are lower. Young adults need flu, tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough, chickenpox and human papillomavirus, or HPV, immunizations. Some young adults may also need measles mumps rubella - also called the MMR - and meningococcal vaccines.

Should women receive vaccines during pregnancy?

If possible, women should be up to date on all their vaccines before they become pregnant. During pregnancy, getting the flu and tetanus/whooping cough vaccines are important to protect both mom and baby. There are a few vaccines expectant mothers should avoid, including the shots for MMR, shingles, chickenpox and HPV.

Can some vaccines prevent cancer?

The HPV vaccine can prevent some forms of cervical, anal, penile and oral cancer. It's only licensed for use for those between the ages of 11-26. Hepatitis B can cause long-term infection and is a common risk factor for liver cancer, so medical experts encourage all adults at risk to get vaccinated against it. Currently, all children who are vaccinated receive the shot for hepatitis B.

Why aren't more people getting vaccinated?

Not enough adults are receiving recommended vaccinations, and there has been little progress in increasing coverage in recent years, according to the latest CDC statistics.

Doctors can boost immunization rates by checking patients' vaccination status and offering vaccines. Patients can keep up with their personal medical records and start discussions with their doctors about vaccines. As the national health care system moves toward electronic medical records, automated vaccination reminders may help improve adult vaccination rates. The overwhelming opinion of the medical community is that vaccines for adults are safe, effective and cost-saving.

Please join us next week for a tweet chat on the health benefits of yoga and meditation. It's easy to participate. Here's how.