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William Schaffner, M.D. Headshot

Are You Meeting the Standards for Adult Patient Care?

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As an infectious disease doctor, I have seen firsthand the value of vaccines in preventing serious diseases such as influenza, measles, and shingles. We often discuss the importance of vaccines when it comes to children, but as health care providers, we should be devoting equal attention to vaccinating adult patients. And I'm not concerned solely with older adults who we traditionally view to be most vulnerable. This year, the H1N1 strain of influenza (flu) hit young adults particularly hard, resulting in patients heading to the doctor's office at a rate 50 percent higher than normal.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that in the U.S., nearly 50,000 annual vaccine-preventable deaths occur in adults. Yet data released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that the vast majority of U.S. adults are not adequately vaccinated.

As health care providers, we need to understand the latest vaccine recommendations and take every opportunity to immunize our patients. Research has found that adults often forget or don't know which vaccines are needed, but are willing to get vaccinated when recommended by a trusted healthcare provider.

To help providers better understand the important role they play in vaccination, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC), which makes vaccine policy recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, recently released new Standards for Adult Immunization Practice that call on ALL health care professionals -- whether they provide vaccines or not -- to help ensure that their adult patients are fully immunized.

These standards apply to health care providers in not just doctor's offices but throughout the immunity community -- at retail stores and pharmacies, public health departments, worksites, travel clinics, and hospitals. The standards will help providers understand how to:

• ASSESS the immunization status of all adult patients;
• SHARE strong vaccine recommendations with adult patients;
• ADMINISTER vaccines;
• REFER patients to local providers for vaccines not offered; and
• DOCUMENT and confirm receipt of recommended vaccines.

Together, we as health care providers can institute these standards to protect our patients, neighbors, friends, and family against devastating vaccine-preventable diseases.

Learn more about adult immunization at adultimmunization.org.