NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 16, 2009

The current "swine flu" problem is a reminder that the United States pays too little attention to the important broader issue of Adult Immunization -- and that too few adults are getting the shots they need, even though most kids are getting theirs, says the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

Although vaccination is acknowledged to be one of the most cost-effective public health strategies available to prevent many communicable viral and bacterial infections, large numbers of Americans above the age of 18 remain vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).  Over 90 percent of children receive most recommended vaccines, but generally low rates of coverage are the norm for adults.

For example:

  • Only 10 percent of women in the target population of 18 to 26 years have been vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), a major cause of cervical cancer.
  • The rate is not much higher for tetanus and diphtheria shots; only 44 percent of American adults have been vaccinated.
  • Even for influenza, the illness for which the value of immunization is best recognized by the public, and which annually takes the lives of over 30,000 Americans, coverage is erratic.

Vaccine-preventable diseases cause substantial sickness and death and contribute to excess health care spending for medical treatment and hospitalizations, says the ACSH:

  • Nearly 50,000 adults die each year from one of the ten most common VPDs.
  • More than 6 million young women are infected annually with HPV, and more than 1 million older Americans every year get shingles.
  • Furthermore, the direct and indirect costs of an average seasonal outbreak of influenza alone are estimated to be close to $10 billion and $87 billion, respectively.

Despite the ready availability of clinically proven interventions to prevent a host of potentially life-threatening illnesses, utilization rates by adults continue to be disappointing -- whereas children's vaccination regimens are well entrenched in routine pediatric care and well covered by government and private insurance.

Adults may wrongly perceive that VPDs are a matter for infants and children and that the health risks from common transmissible viral and bacterial infections are high only for children.  The scientific evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

Source: Report, "Adult Vaccines: Raising Awareness, Improving Access (new ACSH reports)," American Council on Science and Health, November 12, 2009.

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