Low Vaccination Rates for U.S. Adults Raise Disease Risk

Vaccination rates for diseases including pneumonia, shingles and human papillomavirus are “unacceptably low” among adults, U.S. health authorities said.

About 20 percent of U.S. adults younger than age 65 are vaccinated against pneumococcal diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in a report. The illnesses killed about 50,000 people in 2010. About 16 percent of adults 60 and older are vaccinated against shingles.

Rates aren’t much better for vaccination against human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer in women and malignancies of the penis and anus in men. About 30 percent of women ages 19 to 26 have received the HPV vaccine and 2.1 percent of men in the same age group. The CDC is calling for greater public education about vaccines and for health-care providers to more frequently recommend them to patients.

“Too few adults are taking advantage of protection from vaccines, leaving themselves and those around them at greater risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The CDC wants 60 percent of adults -- and 90 percent of those older than 65 -- to be vaccinated against pneumonia, said Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the agency.

HPV Shots

There was “little progress” in adult vaccine rates from 2010 to 2011, Bridges said, except for HPV. There was a nine-percentage-point increase in the number of young women vaccinated against the virus in 2011, she said. HPV causes about 70 percent of cervical cancers, she said.

The government didn’t recommend HPV vaccination for males until late 2011.

There were an estimated 42,000 U.S. cases of pertussis, known as whooping cough, in 2012, the most since 1955, Koh said. Eighteen people died of the disease, most of them infants. About 13 percent of adults younger than 65 have received a combined vaccine for tetanus and pertussis, according to the CDC.

“When the source is identified, four out of five babies who got whooping cough caught it from someone in their home,” Koh said today during a conference call.

The 2010 health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, allows people with insurance to receive government-recommended vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost, Koh said.

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