This post is part of my Wellness Wednesday series brought to you in sponsored partnership with Aurora Health Care.
When back to school time hits, among the fifty billion forms that need to be handed in to the school is your child’s vaccination record. If your family is like ours, we are pretty good at making sure childhood vaccinations are up to date but not as great about our own. While there is always a lot of media focus on childhood vaccinations, not nearly as much attention is given to adult vaccines. The fact is that children aren’t the only ones at risk of catching preventable contagious diseases. Having measles, mumps or chicken pox as an adult is not only no fun, it can be a serious health risk. I speak from experience on this. My first year of teaching, I came down with chicken pox and wound up in the ER because the doctors were worried it had developed into encephalitis. Luckily, it hadn’t but I was sicker than I think I had ever been. Not a fun week.
Let’s back up for a minute and talk about how vaccines work. For the purpose of this explanation, we are going to call germs “antigens” and the specific white blood cells that fight them “antibodies”. Unless you were vaccinated, you probably had chicken pox as a kid. Because of your exposure to the chicken pox virus, your body developed antibodies to fight that particular antigen. Your body remembers how to create that antibody and, if you are exposed to that antigen again, your body will fight it so that you don’t get sick. Vaccines introduce a dead or very weak antigen to your body to stimulate the production of those specific antibodies so you don’t get sick when you are exposed to it again. Depending on how long those antibodies last, some vaccines last a lifetime and some need a booster every so many years. Make sense?
So, the generation after mine started getting chicken pox vaccines as kids and very few of them have had the disease. Had I been vaccinated as kid, I would not have come down with chicken pox as an adult. (That would have been nice, but it wasn’t available when I was a kid.)
Very young children are especially susceptible to being exposed to lots of different antigens. Between the fact that their immune system is still developing and their tendency to put EVERYTHING in their mouths, it’s easy to see why vaccinations are so important. Every year, an updated schedule for adults and children is created by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). ACIP is a group of physicians and public health experts who develop recommendations for the use of vaccines for all age groups. The schedule is by no means written in stone and each individual child’s needs or special conditions should be taken into account. This is an important discussion to have with your or your child’s doctor.
You can see the recommended vaccination schedule for kids aged 0-10 here. But recommended vaccinations don’t end when your child reaches 10. There is also a series that are recommended for tweens and teens aged 11-18. You can find that schedule here as well.
Think you don’t need any vaccinations once you are an adult? Nope – sorry! While you might have been up to date on your vaccinations when you were a kid, there may have been new ones that have been developed since then. In my case, I probably should have gotten myself the chicken pox vaccine once it was developed when I was an adult. The fact is that some vaccinations don’t last your whole life and you need to make sure that you receive a booster to maintain your immunity, like with the tetanus vaccination. And some antigens, like the flu virus, mutate each year and you need an updated vaccine to stay protected. There are even a few vaccines, like shingles and pneumococcal pneumonia, that are mostly recommended for people over 60. Aurora has a comprehensive list of recommended adult vaccinations here.
In the end, you and your doctor can best determine what vaccinations are most appropriate for you and your family, so be sure to keep up with your yearly check ups and make it a point to have that discussion.