Pediatricians obviously concern themselves with protecting the “herd” by giving children immunizations against vaccine-preventable infectious diseases. But their parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, medical providers, and other adults are also a big part of the herd, so they need to be protected as well. Some of our offices will give certain vaccines, including a yearly influenza flu shot or FluMist for parents who don’t receive them elsewhere, and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) to dads of newborn babies, to help “cocoon” infants away from influenza and whooping cough.
Most parents also understand the importance of annual pediatric checkups, which have definite benefits for both their children and themselves. But many adults do not see their own primary care providers every year; in fact, many adults do not identify any one doctor or internal/family medicine doctor as their PCP. (Considering the amount of money people pay for — and complain about — health insurance, not having and utilizing a primary care doctor for yearly checkups, sick advice and treatment, chronic disease and medication monitoring, and, yes, immunization updating, seems worse than wasteful: it’s silly.)
With the ongoing measles epidemic continuing to spread across the country, parents have been understandably concerned about the risks their children face in contracting this brutal infection. But when asked if they are protected against measles, many parents respond with a blank look and stammer: “I assume I am.” They are not completely sure. Remember that today’s adults didn’t grow up in the electronic health record (EHR) era, so they may not have easy access to their shot records. Adult physicians often try to cobble together an accurate vaccine record (“How many MMR’s did you receive?”) and past medical history (“Did you have chickenpox as a child?”) the best they can, but often adults don’t know, or their parents don’t remember.
Technology will ultimately help fill in the holes in our memories regarding immunization records. EHR is rapidly being adopted nationwide by physicians, hospital systems, not-for-profit public clinics, and insurance companies, resulting in more accurate documentation, the generation of data regarding utilization and outcomes, and the ability to share information between providers through health information exchanges (HIE). Online immunization registries are being created by individual States, including Pennsylvania’s Statewide Immunization Information System (PA-SIIS), making accurate immunization records easily accessible and portable.