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The cost of forgoing routine vaccinations

syringes.jpgEach year millions of U.S. adults go without routine immunizations resulting in as many as 50,000 deaths from preventable diseases. That's according to a recent report from the Trust For America's Health, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Researchers found:

More than 30 percent of adults ages 65 and older had not been immunized against pneumonia in 36 states as of 2008...In addition to low rates of pneumonia immunizations, only 2.1 percent of eligible adults have had the tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough vaccine in the previous two years; only 10 percent of eligible adult women have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine; and only 36.1 percent of all adults were vaccinated against the seasonal flu in 2008.

The importance of vaccination for seniors is explored more fully in this article published in the 2009 issue of Stanford Medicine. Author Bruce Goldman writes:

The developed world's success in extending individual life expectancies-from 47 years in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century to 78 now-has allowed people to grow old enough to need a second volley of vaccines. Older bodies' natural defense systems tend to lose some of their punch, and vaccines can ward off-or at least weaken the severity of-a few diseases capable of inflicting extreme discomfort or worse among otherwise robust seniors...

...The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend three vaccines for older Americans. The CDC endorses the vaccines-directed at influenza, pneumonia and shingles, each of which represents a greater threat to older people's than to younger adults' health-as clearly beneficial and without any notable downside.

It’s not that the bugs that cause those diseases in older people don't infect younger people. They do. In fact, the chances are extremely high that a 65-year-old in this country has already been exposed to all three: the influenza virus; the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly known as pneumococcus; and the herpes zoster virus, which causes chicken pox and shingles. But these pathogens can be especially nasty, and sometimes deadly, when they manifest in older people.

Photo by Nathan F

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