All too often, the discussion of vaccines focuses solely on children. The importance of childhood immunizations should not be diminished, but what about adults?
Unvaccinated adults are not only at risk themselves, but they also pose a threat to those more vulnerable to infection, such as the elderly and children. Despite this ripple-effect threat, adult vaccination rates remain dismally low, according to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
The barrier to higher vaccination use among adults centers on education. Physicians are often unsure how to best purchase vaccines and have a difficult time tracking patients’ immunization schedules. Similarly, patients are confused about why it matters, what they need to do and when they need to do it.
Numbers tell a troubling story. According to NHIS data from 2013, adoption of most vaccines for adults above the age of 19 remained flat. Modest gains were seen for Tdap, Shingles and HPV vaccines. However, even with gains, fewer than 18 percent of adults ages 19 to 64 received the Tdap vaccine, less than 25 percent of adults ages 60 and above received Shingles vaccination, and only 40 percent of women and 6 percent of males between ages 19 to 26 reported at least one dose of the HPV vaccine.
Better practices are necessary to ensure adult patients receive appropriate vaccinations, and physicians have an integral role in helping us get there. These meaningful tactics can be implemented immediately:
- Stay up to date – Recommended vaccination schedules continue to evolve as medicine advances. The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides an easy-to-read version updated to include the most recent schedule released in 2015.
- Participate in a vaccine buying group – In many cases, physicians are not confident they can efficiently, effectively and profitably provide immunizations to their adult patients. These practices would benefit from a buying group that has expertise working with family physicians, internists and other providers.
- Communicate – Why shouldn’t asking about vaccines be as common as checking a patient’s blood pressure or discussing medications? Start today and ask your patients about vaccines they have received, consult patient records, educate them on the approved vaccine schedule and, together, determine whether certain immunizations may be appropriate.
As health care shifts from curing sick patients to keeping people healthy, physicians can strengthen their practices and lead the way by proactively managing patients’ vaccination needs.
For more information, please contact Cindy Berenson or Jeff Winokur with ISMA’s benefits affiliate Atlantic Health Partners at (800) 741-2044 or via email.