WEDNESDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Although there have been slight increases in some adult vaccination rates, U.S. health officials reported Wednesday that those rates are still not what they should be.

"We needed vaccinations as infants and toddlers, but we also need vaccinations as adults," Dr. Susan J. Rehm, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said during an afternoon news conference Wednesday.

Rehm noted that vaccination rates among children are very good. "Because of that, we see only a fraction of the vaccine-preventable diseases we saw in the past, and a fraction of the deaths and sufferings from these diseases," she said. "But our advances will be undone if we do not maintain our immunity as adults."

Speaking at the same news conference, Dr. Melinda Wharton, deputy director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced some new data on adult immunization rates.

The rate of coverage for the pneumococcal vaccine, which is recommend for adults over the age of 65 to prevent pneumonia, has remained at 65 percent since 2008, Wharton said. However, the rate of vaccination among blacks and Hispanics is far below this, she added.

The rate of adults being vaccinated with the newer vaccines is increasing, Wharton said. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was first recommended in 2007 for young women to prevent cervical cancer. By 2009, 17 percent of women aged 19 to 26 had received at least one shot -- three are required, Wharton noted. "This is up 6.2 percent, compared with 2008," she said.

Another new vaccine is the herpes zoster vaccine, which prevents shingles and is recommended for adults aged 60 and over. Coverage with this vaccine is up a little from 2008, from 8 percent to 10 percent, Wharton said.

One important adult vaccine is the hepatitis B vaccine, which can prevent liver cancer. Coverage of this vaccine is now 41.8 percent among high-risk groups, up 6 percent from 2008, Wharton said.

A case in point for getting vaccinated is the ongoing pertussis outbreak in California. There is a children's vaccine for pertussis that also includes a booster for tetanus and diphtheria called Dtap, she said. (The adult version is called Tdap.)

Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is not that serious in adults, but adults who carry the disease are highly contagious and can easily spread the disease to infants and children.

In California, several infants have died from the disease and thousands have been sickened by it. Although infants are vaccinated for pertussis, they do not develop full immunity until the third shot is given at 6 months of age, Wharton said.

The vaccine given in childhood does wear off, so a booster is needed. Children in the California outbreak are most likely being infected by adults who carry the disease, according to Dr. Patrick Joseph, from the University of California, San Francisco, and vice president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, who also spoke at the news conference.

Rehm noted this year the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases conducted two surveys, one of doctors and the other of patients. "There seems to be a significant communication breakdown between providers and consumers," she said.

According to the surveys, 87 percent of doctors said they discussed vaccines with every patient, but 47 percent of patients say their doctor never talked to them about vaccinations except for the flu vaccine.

"We really need, as health care providers, to do a better job of conveying the importance of immunization to our adult patients," Rehm said.

Commenting on the CDC report, infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City, said that, "the CDC survey hits the heart of the problem. Doctors are not having enough conversations about vaccines with their patients."

Siegel said the main point of getting vaccinated is to protect your family. "Vaccines are a method of creating a barrier that protects your family and other families," he said. "That's the reason for vaccines -- to create a ring of immunity."

"There are reemerging infectious diseases like whooping cough, measles and mumps that you need to be vaccinated against," Siegel said. "It's something you got to talk to your doctor about, because the disease is more dangerous than the vaccine."

More information

For more information on adult vaccinations, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.