As the push gets under way to immunize Americans against swine flu and the seasonal flu, infectious disease experts warn that many adults haven't received vaccinations for at least half a dozen other preventable diseases — some of which could put people who get influenza at even greater risk for complications and death.
Bacterial pneumonia is the most dangerous complication of the flu and a leading cause of death in previous flu pandemics. Yet only one in four adults under 65 who are considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be at risk for the infection have been vaccinated against invasive pneumococcal disease, which causes bacterial pneumonia.
Adult vaccination rates for other diseases also are dangerously low, according to the story published in the Wall Street Journal.
Only half the people whom the CDC says should be vaccinated for whooping cough, which can also complicate the flu, have received the immunization. Those percentages are even lower for hepatitis B (32 percent), human papillomavirus (11 percent), which can lead to cervical cancer, and shingles (7 percent).
Some adults need vaccinations because they never received them as children, or the immunity can fade over time. As people age, they also become more susceptible to infection. And some newer vaccines weren't available when many adults where children, while some have been improved on.
In all, more than 50,000 U.S. adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases annually —more than from breast cancer, AIDS or traffic accidents. And hundreds of thousands of adults are sickened or suffer long-term problems from pneumococcal disease, meningitis, shingles and hepatitis, adding more than $10 billion annually to U.S. health-care costs.
"Vaccines have not been front and center in our national efforts for disease prevention as they should be," said Gregory A. Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's vaccine research group. "It's a collusion of ignorance — patients don't know to ask about vaccines, and physicians often don't have good mechanisms to screen patients and determine which vaccines they need."