CDC: Adult vaccination rate in US 'unacceptably low'

Jan. 29, 2013, 11:09 a.m.

Vaccination rates among U.S. adults are "unacceptably low," said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new report. (Sanofi Pasteur/Flickr Creative Commons)

A day after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its recommended immunization schedules for children and adults, the agency said adult vaccination coverage is "unacceptably low."

In an early release of the Jan. 29 edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC said adult vaccination coverage "remains low for most routine recommended vaccines," and are "well below" federal goals for 2020.

Aside from the flu shot, which is recommended across the board for all adults, vaccination recommendations differ based on where people live, work and travel. The CDC looked at how well U.S. adults were protected against six diseases and conditions during 2011:

1. Pneumococcal disease: Just over 20 percent of adults were vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, which can manifest as pneumonia or meningitis, to name a couple. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or mental confusion, depending on the strain, and it can be fatal. Long-term complications include brain damage, hearing loss and limb loss.

2. Tetanus: More than half of adults in all age groups received a shot against tetanus: Nearly 65 percent of those between 19 and 49 years old, about 64 percent of those between 50 and 64, and more than 54 percent for those 65 and older. The potentially deadly infection affects the nervous system; symptoms often begin with mild jaw spasms and can include painful muscle contractions and uncontrolled urination and defecation.

3. Hepatitis A: Coverage among adults increased since 2010 to 12.5 percent but "remained low," said the CDC. Hepatitis A is a virus that inflames the liver, the symptoms of which may include dark urine, fatigue, low-grade fever and jaundice. Most patients receiver within three months, and virtually all of them recover within six months. People infected with the virus rarely die from it.

4. Hepatitis B: About 36 percent of adults were vaccinated against this virus, marking an increase of more than 2 percent from 2010. Like Hepatitis A, the B version is an inflammation of the liver that may make you feel very sick for a fews days or weeks – then again, you may not feel it at all. Only 1 percent of cases are fatal, but complications may include serious liver damage.

5. Shingles: About 16 percent of adults 60 or older were vaccinated for shingles, a painful, blistering skin rash that's caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Older folks are more likely to develop the condition, the symptoms of which include the rash, abdominal pain, chills, headaches and even difficulty moving face muscles. Shingles usually clear up after three weeks, but in certain cases could result in permanent paralysis.

6. Human papillomavirus (HPV): About 30 percent of women between 19 and 26 were vaccinated against the virus that causes genital warts, a sexually-transmitted infection. (The same was true for just 2.1 percent of men in the same age group.) Certain strains of HPV can lead to cervical or anal cancer, although most people have no symptoms. Genital warts must be treated by a doctor.

"These data indicate little progress was made in improving adult coverage in the past year," wrote the CDC, "and highlight the need for continuing efforts to increase adult vaccination coverage."

Those continuing efforts ought to include education and vaccine promotion and increased access to vaccinations (e.g. making them available in the workplace), added the agency.

On Monday, the CDC released its annual recommendations for when and how adults and children should get vaccinated.

Photo by Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr Creative Commons.

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