Vaccines protect us from over 25 life-threatening or debilitating diseases, including typhoid, tetanus, polio, meningitis, measles, influenza, diphtheria and cervical cancer.
By Dr. Agam Vora
Ever wondered how vaccines work? Vaccines play an important role in preventing a host of bacterial and viral infections. The WHO has often stated the importance of vaccination as one of the most effective methods for prevention of diseases.
Vaccines protect us from over 25 life-threatening or debilitating diseases, including typhoid, tetanus, polio, meningitis, measles, influenza, diphtheria and cervical cancer.They do this by helping the body develop immunity to these infections. Unfortunately, most people assume that vaccination is important only for children and are unaware that it is essential for adults as well.
Why do adults need vaccines and how do vaccines work?
As people get older, their immune system gets weaker, which makes them more vulnerable to infections, so they need vaccines to strengthen their immune system. The effect of some childhood vaccines weakens with time and adults need booster doses for these. As newer vaccines are introduced, adults are advised to consider taking these as well. Moreover, older adults often have chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease which put them at a higher risk of getting infections that can be prevented with a vaccine.
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Types of vaccines for adults
Today, we find ourselves facing a deadly virus for which we wish there was a vaccine, but we do not have one as yet. However, scientists and researchers are working round-the-clock to develop and test an effective vaccine and I am hopeful that we will have one, soon.
In the meantime, we need to protect our respiratory system from other potentially serious infections with vaccines that are already available. For example, the pneumococcal vaccine can help our body build immunity against a group of bacteria that can cause pneumonia, bronchitis and even meningitis.
The pneumococcal vaccine is given to adults over the age of 50 years.
Flu vaccine for adults
Another vaccine of use in our present situation is the flu vaccine. This vaccine can be given to all adults to protect them from the seasonal flu. A new influenza vaccine is developed every year, depending on which of the strains of the influenza virus are circulating and most likely to cause an infection. For this reason, the influenza vaccine must be taken once every year.
Several other vaccines are available for adults including: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis; measles, mumps and rubella; varicella; herpes zoster; hepatitis A; hepatitis B; human papillomavirus; meningococcal; and typhoid vaccine. Some of these vaccines may be recommended for all adults within a certain age group. Other vaccines may be given to certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of those infections such as healthcare workers, pregnant women, people who have HIV and those with cancer.
It is important to remember that not everyone needs all the available vaccines. This is why I recommend that all adults speak to their doctor about which vaccines they need, depending on their age, any underlying comorbidities and immunity.
We are living in unusual times when we need to pay even more careful attention to our health and ensure we reduce the risk of infection in whatever way possible. Vaccination is one such effective way to build immunity and protect ourselves from many preventable infections.
The columnist is a Chest Physician based in Mumbai. Views expressed are the author’s own.