Vaccination: An Important Step in Protecting Health

By: Dr. Cindy Weinbaum

August 14, 2017

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. During this month, we celebrate the many successes of immunization – preventing disease, promoting better health, and saving lives. Since the introduction of routine immunizations for children, diseases like measles, rubella, and Haemophilus influenzae type b have declined by over 99%. CDC’s Immunization Services Division is happy to support our partners in state and local public health – and is deeply indebted to all the physicians who vaccinate and have made these advances possible. But this month is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of continuing to vaccinate, so we may continue to see these important public health benefits.

In the United States, we have created a solid infrastructure and strong norms for childhood vaccination. However, we are still faced with challenges in vaccinating adults. Coverage rates for vaccines recommended for adults remain too low, especially for vaccines that are recommended for adults with medical conditions like heart and lung disease, that increase risk for worse outcomes from infection. And vaccine-preventable disease burden among adults is high. Each year, thousands of adults needlessly suffer, are hospitalized, and even die of diseases that could be prevented by vaccines.

During the 2016-17 flu season, chronic lung disease was one of the most commonly reported underlying medical conditions among adults who were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza. Even in years when flu vaccine effectiveness was low, vaccination has been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with heart and lung disease.

Adults with COPD and asthma are at increased risk of complications from influenza, including pneumonia and hospitalization. They are also at higher risk for invasive pneumococcal disease and more likely to develop bacteremia and meningitis. For patients with these and other lung conditions, vaccines are an important component in protection against these serious sequelae.

Despite increased risks, less than half of adults under 65 years with COPD or asthma have received influenza and pneumococcal vaccination (National Health Information Survey 2015). If you have patients with these or other chronic lung diseases, it is critical to make sure they have all the vaccines they need to protect their health.

CDC recommends adults with COPD, asthma, and other lung diseases get an annual flu vaccine and stay up to date with pneumococcal and other recommended vaccines. Additional vaccines may be indicated based on age, job, travel locations, and lifestyle. Recommendations for adult immunization are complex, but the Recommended Immunization Schedule for Adults is updated each year and available online.

The Standards for Adult Immunization Practice call on ALL health-care professionals to help ensure that adults are fully immunized. In fact, a recommendation from a provider is the most important predictor of patient vaccination. Even if you don’t maintain an office supply of certain vaccines, it is critical that you routinely assess patient immunization status and strongly recommend vaccines that are due. Patients rely on providers to give them the health-care information they need.

For vaccines you don’t stock, refer patients to another provider who can vaccinate. There is an expanding network of adult immunization providers. Check to find one in your local area.

At the next visit, confirm that patients received recommended vaccines. Documenting the vaccines your patients receive, whether you administer them or not, is the best way to make sure your patients are up-to-date on their vaccinations.

For more information and resources on adult immunization, visit

Dr. Cindy Weinbaum currently serves as the Deputy Director of the Immunization Services Division for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In her 20 years at CDC, she has led numerous immunization programs, served on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and authored several CDC recommendations and peer-reviewed articles. Dr. Weinbaum is a Diplomate of the American Board of Preventive Medicine and the American Board of Emergency Medicine. 

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