Most people know that eating right and staying active can help keep them healthy. But patients should also consider asking their doctors at their next check-up whether they are up to date on all immunizations. Vaccines are one of the most convenient and safest preventive care measures available.

Immunizations are not just for children—adults need to get boosters to keep vaccines fully effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinations throughout people’s lives to protect against many illnesses including shingles, influenza, pneumonia, and more serious viruses like HPV and hepatitis B, which can both lead to cancer if left untreated. There are also a number of vaccines and boosters recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

"Vaccines are critical part of preventive care for patients of all ages, and should be discussed at least annually with your provider," says Adam Licurse, MD, a primary care physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Associate Medical Director at the BWPO and Partners Center for Population Health, where he oversees many patient engagement efforts. "They are among the most important tools in my toolbox as a primary care physician to prevent life-threatening infections."

Not only will immunizations help patients stay healthy, they can prevent surrounding family, friends, and the community from getting sick. A vaccine-preventable disease that might make an average adult sick for a week or two could prove deadly for someone's children, grandchildren, or parents if it spreads to them. When a patient gets vaccinated, they are protecting themselves, their family, and the most vulnerable members of the community. For example, adults are the most common source of pertussis (whooping cough), which can be deadly in infants. Since 2011, there have been 40 reported deaths from whooping cough1.

The safety of vaccines has been hotly debated over the last decade, mostly based on a study that has since been proven fraudulent. Unless a patient has a documented medical issue such as an allergy, patients should consider vaccines safe to use.

“Immunizations are among the safest healthcare interventions we offer to our patients”

Dr. Licurse, MD Associate Medical Director at the BWPO and Partners Center for Population Health

“In the vast majority of patients, there are no important side effects in spite of significant benefits to vaccinating.  Patients should talk to their providers about the specific reasons not to vaccinate against certain infections, which are uncommon but important to discuss” says Dr. Licurse. 

Adults should encourage kids to think positively about vaccines. Talk to them about why vaccines make them healthy and show them that grown-ups also go to their primary care provider to “get their shots.”  If parents are unsure about what vaccines their children need and when, they should talk to their child’s pediatrician or consult the CDC’s immunization schedule.

Partners HealthCare has recently increased efforts to support primary care practices in administering immunizations. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has released updated guidance on legislation which allows medical assistants to provide immunizations in primary care. Certified medical assistants who meet specific training criteria or those with three or more years of experience administering immunizations may provide vaccines under the supervision of a primary care provider. To support this new legislation, the Center for Population Health offers educational programs designed to help medical assistants meet the state requirements for administering immunizations. With more staff able give vaccinations, primary care practices can help a larger population of patients.

“By allowing medical assistants to administer vaccines, physicians and other staff will be freed up to do work that is more appropriate to their training and skill sets—a concept called ‘working at the top of one’s license,’” says Eric Weil, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Primary Care for Partners Center for Population Health.  “This will decrease unnecessary burden to our physicians and NPs and hopefully improve professional satisfaction. It will also streamline work and allow teams to provide better care to the patients that they serve.”

 To learn more about vaccinations for both children and adults, explore the Center for Population Health’s video collection on immunizations. These short videos are filmed by our providers at Partners and give patients access to the health topics they care about. Viewers can download the app right to their phone and have the ability to follow the Partners HealthCare channel (vidscrip.com/partners).