It’s been decades since we’ve experienced the terror of an epidemic – when worried parents kept children inside during hot summer months to avoid polio contagion in the mid-1950s or families fretted at the bedside as small children suffered for weeks with the mumps.

This has resulted in complacency when it comes to immunizations, according to David Lowe, MD, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Kent Hospital.

“Unfortunately, public support for vaccination has lessened over the years because we have forgotten what it is like to be in the midst of an epidemic,” explains Dr. Lowe. “With the exception of smallpox, all the diseases that we give vaccines for are still present somewhere in the community, waiting for the immunity of the population to wane so they may resurface and start the next epidemic.

“Today, some people actually oppose routine vaccination, leaving their children and other children in the community at risk for disease. Vaccination remains the most effective and least expensive form of medical care. It’s the disease that never happens.”

“Adults also need to check the status of their vaccinations,” Dr. Lowe continues. “Our immunity wanes over the years or new strains of infecting organisms develop that require newer vaccines.” He suggests adults follow the schedule outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to stay current with their immunizations.

Adult vaccines

Localized outbreaks of whooping cough have made the news in the last year and that’s the first vaccination Lowe suggests adults receive. Called TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis or whooping cough), the vaccine can be given the next time you need a tetanus booster. In addition, he suggests the following immunizations:

  • Human papilloma virus vaccine (HPV) (3 doses) for young adults ages 19 to 26.
  • Chicken pox vaccine for adults who never had the disease or the vaccine as a child.
  • Influenza vaccine annually.
  • Hepatitis A and B vaccine.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine, especially for the elderly.
  • Zoster vaccine for people over 60.
  • Meningococcal vaccine during epidemics and for college freshmen.
  • Anyone traveling to the tropics may need vaccinations for a number of diseases, such as yellow fever, typhoid, polio, rabies and meningococcus, as well as malaria pills. Check the CDC website for more details.

“We take most vaccines to prevent ourselves from becoming ill,” Dr. Lowe explains. “Some vaccines, such as the pertussis vaccine, we take to prevent young children and immune-compromised people from becoming ill.”

Side effects

Most side effects from immunization are local reactions at the injection sites. Serious reactions are rare, he says.

“Patients with HIV or who have a serious immune deficiency should not take live virus vaccines and pregnant women should follow the CDC’s published guidelines,” he explains.

Vaccinations can be given by your primary care provider. If you do not have one, call the Kent Physician Referral Line at (401) 737-9950 or search for a physician with our Provider Search tool. The VNA of Care New England also hosts annual flu clinics around the area. For details, call the Flu Hotline at (401) 681-1102