The results of a recent study by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), show that far too few adults are getting vaccinations that could prevent diseases like shingles, whooping cough and cervical cancer.
That is despite heavy promotion by the manufacturers of the shots.
Zoxtavas, the shingles vaccine made by Merck & Co., could, according to the study, cut the risk of contraction of the painful, rash-like disease in half, and could reduce the severity of it in those patients who do get it. Of the one million cases of shingles each year, 200,000 patients develop serious complications that extend the disease’s life to months or even years and could prove fatal. Adults in their 60s and who have had a prior case of chicken pox, whose virus can hibernate in nerve cells for decades before becoming active again, are the most likely group to get shingles.
Even though the vaccine, which costs $150, is covered by Medicaid Part D, Dr. Skip Nolan, professor of medicine with the division of infectious diseases at University of Mississippi Medical Center, says that coverage sometimes is not enough to convince adults to get the shot.
“Expense is a large part of the issue,” Nolan said, adding that private insurance coverage for the shots varies. “Complacency is another part. It’s just not something that’s high on their radar screens.”
Whooping cough usually strikes children, but adults are susceptible because the vaccine given to infants can wear off by adolescence. The coughing and straining that are a part of the illness can be so intense it can break a rib, and symptoms can last for weeks. The vaccine is relatively new, having only been on the market for two years. The CDC’s study said only 2% of adults ages 18-64 received the shot. The vaccine was added to a regimen of shots against tetanus and diptheria that adults should get every 10 years. The combination vaccine is called “Tdap” and has two versions — one for patients 10-18 years old manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis and another for those ages 11-64 made by GlaxoSmithKline.
“Pediatricians do a very good job immunizing children, because some of those shots are required for entry into school,” Nolan said. “Most adults lack a built-in schedule of vaccinations.”
Of those women ages 18 to 26 surveyed for the study, only 10% had received at least one dose in the three-shot series that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and has more than 100 different strains, most of which the body eliminates without the patient showing any symptoms. But, there are a few strains of the disease the body cannot eradicate but could be prevented by the three vaccines, which are manufactured by Merck. Again, the shot is expensive ($300) and insurance coverage varies.
Besides the relative newness of the shots, their considerable expense and no requirement to get them — there is no national program for adults to get shots like there is for children — Nolan said some people will not get the shots because they have a natural fear of receiving shots that dates to childhood.
“Honestly, if you don’t absolutely have to get a shot, people usually aren’t going to because they don’t like needles,” he said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .