About a month ago, I overheard a group of friends talking about an acquaintance who had been diagnosed with measles at age 37. “Have we been vaccinated?” wondered one of the friends. “Should we get vaccinated now?” asked another.
Most adults don’t know—or don’t remember—whether they were properly vaccinated, which vaccines they received, and whether they were told to get any additional vaccines as adults. As children in Spain, we were all issued an immunisation tracking card on which all our vaccinations were recorded, so in theory we should all be able to retrieve this information when necessary. In practice, however, these cards are often lost or forgotten.
When no immunisation card is available, a person’s date and place of birth and where they grew up can be used to determine which vaccines they need as an adult. Since systematic vaccination of children began in Spain in 1965, the vaccinations recommended for all children have been specified in official vaccination schedules. These schedules evolved over the years as new vaccines were introduced, guidelines were modified, and new protocols replaced old ones. The year of birth and the geographical area where a person was born and grew up are useful because the vaccines required and the ages at which they were administered varied slightly between regions.
As a rule, Spaniards who are today aged over 50 were not systematically vaccinated as children. But does this mean that they are candidates for routine childhood vaccines? Are people in this age group susceptible to all infectious diseases? Do they need to be vaccinated against everything? Prior to 1965, the incidence of infections such as measles, rubella, mumps, and chickenpox was very high. Most children eventually caught all of these diseases and, as a result, acquired lifelong immunity. Adults over age 50 are therefore very likely to be naturally protected against these infections. However, the same is not true for other diseases, such as tetanus and diphtheria. Even people who have already had these infections must be vaccinated periodically in order to maintain lifelong immunity. After a three-dose primary vaccination series at 0, 1, and 6 months, booster doses are recommended at age 45 and between the ages of 60 and 65. People aged 65 or older should remember to get annual flu shots and be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease following the advice of their physician.
People born between 1966 and 1977 need to be aware that they may never have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine was not included in the vaccination schedule until 1981, when it was made available for children 12 months of age. Adults between the ages of 35 and 50 may therefore be susceptible to measles, mumps, and rubella and should be vaccinated against these infections. A booster dose of tetanus vaccine is also recommended at age 45.
Adults under age 35 should have received all recommended vaccinations, with the last dose administered at age 14. However, they should seek a doctor’s advice if they plan to travel abroad or work in certain professions, as additional vaccinations may be required.
Although a person’s age can provide useful information, the only source of accurate, reliable information about a person’s vaccination history is the immunisation card. This document is more than just a memento of one’s early medical history; it is an important record and should be treated as such.