Five Vaccines For Adults
Not getting diseases isn’t just for kids!
There’s something that’s often missed in the vaccine debate. We usually think about vaccine-preventable diseases as ‘childhood illnesses’, because back when catching measles or mumps was an everyday occurrence it was mostly kids who bore the brunt of the problem. Kids are usually more at risk when it comes to nasty things like whooping cough, because their immune systems aren’t as well developed as ours and simply because they aren’t always strong enough to fight off the infection.
There are a lot of other reasons we vaccinate kids — for example, schools make it easy to get a lot of people in one go — but the biggest reason is always because they are the ones most likely to get really ill from a nasty infection. No one wants to see children getting unnecessarily sick.
But there’s a problem. Vaccination has gotten more and more complicated, and it turns out that it’s not just for kids any more. It never really was.
If you haven’t had a vaccine in the last few years, you’re probably due.
Vaccination is just something that we don’t really think about that often. It’s a nasty, uncomfortable experience, like visiting a dentist, but unlike visiting the dentist there’s often no easy way to tell that it’s working. It’s pretty hard to tell when a vaccine has saved you a serious illness because who notices not getting sick?
If you’re over the age of 18, there are actually quite a few recommended vaccines that you should probably be aware of. Here’s a list of 5 of the most important:
5Pneumococcal: The pneumococcal vaccination is an important method of protecting against pneumococcal disease, which is a nasty infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. The infection can occur in a number of places, making it a really bad one to catch. The WHO attributes about 1.6 million deaths globally from pneumococcal disease, meaning it’s a major cause of death and discomfort around the world.
It’s a particularly problematic infection because there are now emerging a number of antibiotic-resistant strains, which means that it’s much better to prevent it in the first place.
Whilst serious illness in healthy adults is rare, it’s still a pretty nasty infection to get, and is strongly recommended for those who are medically at risk or over the age of 50.
4HPV: HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is an irritating bug that causes warts around the body. It’s probably most well known for causing genital warts, because we are really invested in keeping our various genitalia healthy.
Now, warts are uncomfortable, but this seems like the odd one out on this list because they are almost never life-threatening. People with HPV can even be asymptomatic, or just have a recurring flare-up once in a while. But the problem comes when you have a persistent, chronic HPV infection, because this can lead to some of your cells mutating.
Which then causes cancer.
Most people know about cervical cancer — it’s definitely had the most screen time — but the HPV vaccine is important even for people who don’t have cervixes. It can prevent anal and throat cancer for everyone, and penile cancer for men too. Whilst it has been added to the schedule (so all kids should now be getting it), many/most adults will never have been vaccinated.
And it prevents cancer.
The great news is that tetanus has been virtually eradicated as a disease in most developed nations due to widespread vaccination. The less great news is that the bacteria that causes tetanus lives in the environment, so we can never fully get rid of the disease. The perhaps-slightly-worse-still news is that the protective effects of the vaccine wane over time in a reasonably large portion of the population.
On the plus side, a single dose of the vaccine brings your immune system back up to scratch, and provides protection for at least 10 more years.
Sounds like a good deal to me.
2Flu: I’m sure you all know what flu is. A highly infectious dick of a disease that makes you feel like hell and ruins your life for a few days with fevers, joint pain, and a whole host of other symptoms.
The vaccine is an interesting one, because the virus that causes influenza is, unsurprisingly, not a nice guy. It mutates incredibly quickly, and has any number of strains that your body needs to protect against at the same time.
All of this means that the flu vaccine needs to be administered yearly, ideally a few months before flu season (usually winter), because the virus mutates so fast that otherwise the vaccine can be ineffective. It’s also not as effective at preventing disease as the other vaccines on this list — it only lowers your risk of catching influenza by about 50% compared to almost 100% for the other vaccines — but since the flu is such a contagious disease it’s still an important one to get.
It’s also strongly recommended for pregnant women and people who are at high risk of having a serious episode of the flu, because whilst flu is a couple of days off work for a twenty-something healthy person like me, it can kill if you’ve got a compromised immune system or are a baby in the womb.
1Pertussis: Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is yet another crappy disease to get. If you manage to run into the bacteria Bordetella Pertussis you can look forward to a runny nose, fever, and then weeks or even months of coughing fits.
It’s another disease that is both easily preventable and very contagious, so getting a vaccine is a great idea. Whilst your chances of getting sick are reduced significantly with even one dose, it’s recommended that you get a booster every 10 years or so to maintain the protective effect. Pertussis is also extremely dangerous for young kids and infants, so it’s particularly important for people who are around small children, to protect them from getting sick as well.
The pertussis vaccine is another one that is strongly recommended for pregnant women, because it can help protect their newborns from an infection. And since pertussis has a terrifyingly high mortality rate in newborn babies, it’s a pretty important one to get.
It’s also worth noting that most pertussis boosters come with a free side of tetanus and diptheria, meaning you get to be protected from three diseases in one go!
Go Forth And Vaccinate
If all of this sounds like a lot of work to you, it might be worth remembering that these vaccines stop you from getting sick. It’s always better to prevent than try to treat or cure, and 15 seconds in the doctor’s office is much easier to deal with than 3 weeks of lying in bed coughing.
Before you get any vaccines, it’s always important to talk to your doctor. As with any medical intervention, they are not without risk, although they are some of the safest around.
Vaccines are great. They keep us healthy, they keep us safe, they stop us from getting nasty diseases and dying even when we are no longer in nappies.
Vaccines: not just for kids.