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Study Says Adults Failing To Keep Immunizations Current

October 22, 1987

ATLANTA (AP) _ Vaccinations have sharply reduced preventable diseases among children, but some of the same illnesses are killing adults who don’t keep their shots up to date, a government-sponsored study shows.

The study, reported Thursday by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control, said children are immunized through organized programs such as school admission requirements, but adults are harder to reach.

The CDC is helping promote National Adult Immunization Awareness Week the last week of October.

The study showed that in 1985, the last year for which complete figures are available, about 20 percent of the people at high risk for flu-related illnesses were vaccinated, the CDC said, but there are an estimated 40,000 flu-related deaths each year.

The survey found at least 10,000 excess deaths, primarily among the elderly, from 19 flu epidemics from 1957 to 1986. ″Excess″ deaths are those above a norm established over the years from weekly surveys of deaths in 121 American cities.

The study found that 100 percent of the diphtheria cases in 1985, 92.5 percent of the tetanus (lockjaw) cases, 89.1 percent of the hepatitis B cases and 58.2 percent of the rubella cases hit people over the age of 20.

Measles and mumps continue to affect primarily younger people, the survey found.

It said 49 percent to 66 percent of people 60 or older are not protected against tetanus, a usually fatal illness, and 41 percent to 84 percent in that age range are not protected against diphtheria.

Up to 7 million young adults are susceptible to measles and as many as 11 million women of child-bearing age are unprotected against rubella, which can result in birth defects, the CDC said in its weekly report.

No more than 30 percent of those targeted to receive hepatitis B vaccine have been immunized, the survey revealed. These include homosexuals, intravenous drug users, people who work with blood products and people in the dental care field, said Ronald Teske, chief of program support in the CDC’s immunizations section.

The survey also found that about 10 percent of the estimated 49.7 million people in the country at risk for complications following pneumonia-rela ted infections had ever received the appropriate vaccine.

″At risk″ patients generally are the elderly and those with underlying, usually chronic, medical problems.

The report said the lack of immunization among the elderly appears not to be from apathy. It cited a finding by the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion that elderly Americans are willing to change their habits to stay healthy and will actively seek information on how to do so.

The report cited higher costs of adult vaccinations as one problem.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases is encouraging health insurance programs to cover costs of adult immunizations and is approaching legislators about the cost effectiveness of preventing adult illness by including immunization costs in Medicare and Medicaid coverage.

Vaccination costs against pneumonia and hepatitis B are covered by those programs but other vaccinations are not, Teske said.

In 1983, the Council of Delegates of the American College Health Association recommended that colleges require proof of immunization as an admission requirement. A survey three years later showed 55 percent of the responding institutions had such a policy.

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