Too few US adults get their shots, survey shows

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Only 2 percent of U.S. adults last year got a shot that can protect them from painful bouts of shingles, health officials said on Wednesday in a study that shows what they call unacceptably low rates of adult vaccination against a range of diseases.

Adults also failed to get vaccines that can protect them against tetanus, whooping cough and even influenza -- despite years of campaigning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The CDC surveyed 7,000 adults as part of its annual look at childhood vaccinations and found very low levels of adult vaccination.

It found that most adults cannot name more than one or two diseases that they can get a vaccine to prevent. Just under half could name the influenza vaccine, and at the most, 18 percent could name each of any of the other vaccines.

Only 1.9 percent of those polled had been vaccinated against herpes zoster -- the virus that causes shingles, which can cause a painful, blistering rash and sometimes months of severe pain.

"There are more than 1 million new cases of shingles in the United States every year; over half in people 60 and older," said Dr. Michael Oxman of the University of California, San Diego, and the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"The vaccine not only helps reduce the risk of getting shingles, but it reduces the incidence of postherpetic neuralgia, a long-lasting shingles pain syndrome that constitutes the most common serious and debilitating complication of shingles."

And just 2 percent said they had received a combination vaccination called "Tdap" for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis, or whooping cough.


Dr. Mark Dworkin of the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health said people need regular boosters against all three infections because the vaccines lose their effectiveness over time.

Adults and teens with whooping cough not only suffer for weeks and months -- they are a threat to babies too young to be vaccinated, he said.

"This disease is a baby killer," Dworkin told a news conference.

The agency and its advisers recommend that adults get shots to protect against chicken pox, diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, the human papillomavirus or HPV, which causes cervical cancer, influenza, measles, meningitis, mumps, pertussis or whooping cough, pneumonia, rubella or German measles, shingles and tetanus.

"Combined, these infectious diseases kill more Americans annually than either breast cancer, HIV/AIDS or traffic accidents," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, who is vice president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Childhood vaccination rates are very high in the United States, in part because they are required for school admission and because they are included during routine visits to the pediatrician.

However, doctors forget to prescribe these vaccines for adults and people forget to ask for them, the experts told a news conference.

The biggest success is against influenza, which kills an estimated 36,000 Americans in an average year. The survey found that 68 percent of Americans aged 65 and older got a flu shot last year -- although they are all supposed to.

And 10 percent of young women aged 18 to 26 got at least one of the three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine.

Editing by Eric Beech