August, also known as National Immunization Awareness Month, highlights the importance of vaccinations and their impact on people of all age groups and backgrounds. Anyone can be affected by disease, but these groups are more vulnerable than others:
- Caregivers: Caregivers are involved in the day-to-day needs of sick and/or impaired patients. This can range from bathing and dressing, to cooking and cleaning. Due to close proximity, it’s easier for illness to spread between these parties. Therefore, caregivers should be up-to-date on all immunizations, to keep themselves and their loved one or patient healthy.
- Children: The first six years of life are crucial for establishing optimal health. During this time, children can receive up to 14 vaccines to prevent serious illnesses such as polio, tetanus and hepatitis B. Since children are still growing, their immune systems aren’t strong enough to combat most infectious diseases. They’re more susceptible to common illnesses such as chickenpox, influenza and measles—which was previously eradicated in 2000. As of July 2019, measles has re-emerged with more than 1,100 cases across 28 states—the most since 1992.
- Individuals with Immunodeficiency: Some people are born with a compromised immune system or develop immunity issues from external factors like disease and environment. This can include HIV, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, malnutrition and alcohol use disorder. These conditions can inhibit the body’s ability to fight off infection and stay healthy, so being up-to-date on immunizations is critical.
- Older Adults: Seniors often have weaker immune systems due to age, medications or previously contracted diseases. Without vaccination, adults age 50 and up have a greater risk of developing shingles—a viral infection characterized by a painful rash or blisters. They’re also more likely than most to have a flu-related hospitalization or death.
- The Unvaccinated: As of 2015, 1.3% of children age two and under were not vaccinated—a slight jump from 0.9 percent in 2011. Despite health expert recommendations, several factors may cause parents to refrain from vaccines. One of the largest obstacles is inadequate health coverage. Some have limited or no insurance and are unable to afford the out-of-pocket costs.
How to Protect Yourself
There are several ways to reduce the risk of contracting an infectious disease. Some tactics include:
- Check Health Care Coverage: Vaccines are available under both PPO and HMO health insurance plans, including shingles, HPV (human papillomavirus) and pneumonia. Aside from visiting a primary care physician, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members can receive vaccinations at their local pharmacy. Those with Blue Care Network HMO are treated free of charge at these participating locations.
- Get a Booster Shot: To keep vaccines viable, booster shots are administered after initial exposure. The additional dose increases immunity by reintroducing the antigen into the system. Since every illness is different, some may require a booster shot, while others do not. If exposed to a communicable disease contact a physician to explore the best treatment option.
- Practice Herd Immunity: Herd immunity, also known as community immunity, is an indirect way of protecting vulnerable citizens. When most of a population is immunized, there are less viable carriers of disease. This makes it difficult for germs, bacteria and viruses to spread from person-to-person. Vaccinated individuals are the last line of defense for those who do not opt for immunizations.
If you found this post helpful, you might also want to read:
- How Do Vaccines Actually Work?
- What Every Parents Needs to Know About Vaccines
- Midwest Measles Outbreak: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
About the author: Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Photo credit: FatCamera