How many adults do you know who've gotten whooping cough? The number might be low, but what most people don't realize is that the illness is on the rise. It's thought of as a kids' sickness, mostly because symptoms are often less severe in adults – and often go undiagnosed.
But it's very contagious, and adults can spread it to infants, in whom it can be really deadly. One study showed that in infants younger than 12 months who had contacted whooping cough, or pertussis, in 24 percent of the cases, the infant had had contact with a parent or grandparent who had a cough.
Here's where adult vaccinations come into play. An adult pertussis vaccine has been available for a couple of years, and is recommended for adults age 60 and older. Same goes for a shingles vaccine: Shingles affects 1 million people each year, but only 2 percent of adults are vaccinated.
Why the low numbers of vaccinated adults? In the case of shingles, it's a relatively new vaccine – available for just more than a year. It's the same situation as we've seen happen with the new HPV vaccine: Doctors may have a tendency to hold back for the first year or so to see if any side effects pop out before regularly prescribing it to patients. For some doctors there's a mentality of "you don't want to adopt it too soon, you don't want to adopt it too late."
Even the popular flu vaccine isn't as widely used as it could be. We know flu kills an estimated 36,000 people a year. And that's just an example of us not being able to get it out there fast enough. Sometimes flu vaccines are in short supply. This year, though, there was plenty of supply.