What’s your risk? People who need vaccines the most

Published on May 15, 2019
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

Some people are more likely than others to develop harmful infectious diseases. This could be due to the higher chance of being exposed to these infections, the greater risk of serious complications, or both. Check to see if you or the person you care for are at higher risk. Some of these infections can be prevented by vaccinations. People who are at higher risk should speak with their doctor about any needed vaccinations so they are up-to-date with protection.

People with certain chronic diseases or immunocompromising conditions

There are some medical conditions and medicines that cause the immune system to not function the
the way it should. Instead of having a whole army of immune cells to fight off infection-people who are “immunocompromised”have a much smaller immune defense team. This makes them more at risk to be overcome by harmful infectious diseases. What’s more, the infections can result in serious health complications.

People who are immunocompromised include those having:

  • autoimmune conditions (like lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • cancer
  • medicines that suppress or lower the immune system (such as cancer chemotherapy, and certain medicines for autoimmune conditions)
  • had certain transplants
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • No spleen or a spleen that isn’t working properly

People who are immunocompromised need to be assessed carefully to determine vaccination plans. When vaccines are given, a person with a compromised immune system is likely to have a smaller response compared to a person with a normal immune system. This means that additional doses of some vaccines may be needed to get the right level of protection. On the other hand, some vaccines are not recommended altogether in these people.

We must not forget that household and other close contacts should also have their vaccinations kept up-to-date. This helps to limit the chance of exposure of the immunocompromised person to these diseases.

If you are at risk, talk to your doctor about what vaccinations may be appropriate for you and when you should be getting them. You may also need to be referred to an immunisation specialist.

Older adults

As we get older, our immune systems become less effective against fighting infections. This means that infections can be more likely to happen, can be more severe, and complications from these infections can be especially serious. They could land you in hospital. Vaccines such as flu, pneumococcal and shingles are recommended in older adults. In addition, protection from some vaccines that were received during childhood may be lost and require a “booster”.

If you are over 65 years of age, make sure you raise this with your doctor. Getting vaccinated can help prevent serious diseases and even death. The government helps pay for some of these vaccines.

Children and Adolescents

Infants and young children do not have fully developed immune systems. That means their bodies can’t fight off infections as easily as an adult’s can. Vaccines help protect against certain infections that could potentially have serious consequences on a child’s life. These include hepatitis B, diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease to name a few.

There are also certain infections that adolescents are at higher risk of contracting. For adolescents, immunisation against diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, human papillomavirus and meningococcal are recommended. Some are funded under the national immunisation program, however some are not.

Importantly, these vaccines need to be given on a schedule, meaning, at specific times in your life. It is very important to receive vaccinations on time, every time. If that time is missed, for whatever reason, speak to your child’s doctor about catch-up vaccinations.

Pregnant women

Before falling pregnant, it is important to be up-to-date with your vaccinations. This helps to provide protection to the mother, the unborn child, and the baby’s first few weeks of life against serious infections. The doctor can help to determine the need for vaccines such as German measles (rubella), measles, chickenpox (varicella) and mumps vaccines. There are some vaccines that cannot be given during pregnancy, so it’s better if you do it beforehand, if possible.

During pregnancy, there are two vaccines which your doctor will recommend. They are the flu vaccine and the whooping cough vaccine. Partners and close contacts/carers should also be vaccinated (if they are not up-to-date on the whooping cough vaccine) before the baby is born.

So, if you are planning to fall pregnant, or are pregnant, speak to your GP about whether you need any vaccinations to help protect you and your baby.

People with occupational or workplace risk

Certain jobs or occupations carry a higher risk of contracting some vaccine-preventable diseases. People who are likely to be exposed to blood and/or bodily fluids are at greatest risk. These jobs include:

  • Doctors, nurses and some other health care workers
  • Staff working in aged care or childhood education
  • Emergency and essential services
  • Pathology/laboratory workers
  • People who work with animals
  • People exposed to human tissue, blood, body fluids or sewage

Some infected workers, particularly health care workers and those working in early childhood education services, may also transmit infections such as influenza, rubella, measles, mumps, varicella and whooping cough to susceptible people, with the potential for serious outcomes.

Employers of high-risk jobs should have a vaccination policy for their employees. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP about any vaccinations you may need.

Migrants/refugees

Migrants or refugees coming into Australia and New Zealand may not have received vaccinations according to the Australian or New Zealand national immunisation scheduleor they may have incomplete vaccination records. The doctor can help to plan a catch-up vaccination schedule if needed.

International travelers

If you are planning on traveling to an area of the world where certain vaccine-preventable diseases are still widespread, you may need to update your immunisations. Check out the links in the Take The Next Step section for government recommendations for travel. In Australia, Smart traveller, and in New Zealand, SafeTravel, recommend you see your doctor or a travel medicine clinic at least 6 weeks before your trip. You may need vaccinations depending on your destination, what you plan to do there, your vaccination history and your health status. Many vaccinations take time to become effective or must be given in a series or over a period of days, weeks or even months.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at increased risk of certain vaccine-preventable diseases compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

That is why there are extra vaccines which are recommended on top of those recommended to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These include vaccines to help prevent tuberculosis, hepatitis A and B, influenza, meningococcal disease, and pneumococcal disease.

Summary

If you fall under these higher risk groups, make sure you ask your GP about any recommended vaccinations. It is so important to stay up-to-date with your vaccinations. Some of these may be funded by the government, and some are not.

Read next: What you need to know about adult vaccinations.

For further resources, check out the Take the Next Step section below.

[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

References

  • 1. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Published 2019. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 2. National Immunisation Program Schedule. Australian Government Department of Health. Published 2019. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 3. New Zealand Immunisation Schedule. Ministry of Health NZ. Published 2019. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 4. Immunisation Handbook 2017. Ministry of Health New Zealand. Published 2019. Accessed April 3, 2019.
  • 5. Pregnancy: Protection and vaccination from preconception to birth Fact Sheet. NSW Government. Published March 2015. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 6. Immunisation throughout life. Australian Government Department of Health. Published 2019. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 7. Adult Vaccination Fact Sheet. National Centre of Immunisation Research and Surveillance. Published 2019. Accessed April 3, 2019.
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