Vaccines aren’t just for kids. Grown-ups need them to protect against diseases that become more common in adulthood. They can also protect you if you missed a dose as a child.
Ask your provider what you need. Let them know if you’ll be traveling internationally, if you have allergies, or if you’re pregnant. All of those things can affect which shots you need and which you should skip for now.
Many adults assume they’re already immunized against certain illnesses because they were vaccinated regularly as children. Trouble is, some vaccinations wear off – unlike the immunity you attain from having an actual disease, which usually lasts a lifetime. (That includes colds and the flu – the reason you can keep catching them is that the viruses constantly mutate.) Vaccines work by introducing a weak form of a disease into your body. Your immune system responds by making antibodies designed to stamp out the infecting microbe if you’re exposed to the real thing. That way, you don’t have to suffer from the disease itself – or its potentially deadly complications.
Chickenpox (varicella): Two doses of this shot are recommended for adults who are not already immune to the chickenpox virus. Chickenpox infection can be very serious when it occurs after childhood. Pregnant women and people with immune system problems should NOT receive this shot.
Hepatitis A: Immunization is recommended for adults who will be traveling to certain foreign countries, such as those in Central or South America. Also, adults who have certain risk factors, such as long-term (chronic) liver disease, should also be immunized. Two doses are needed for long lasting protection.
Hepatitis B: Adults who have not received the hepatitis B vaccine series should be immunized when occupation, travel, health condition, or lifestyle increases their risk of exposure. Adult hepatitis B immunization requires three shots over at least 4 months. A hepatitis combination vaccine (twinrix) is recommended for those who are at risk for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. This vaccine is approved in the United States only for those 18 years of age or older.
Influenza (flu): Immunization with the inactivated flu vaccine (flu shot) is recommended for pregnant women, adults 50 years of age and older, and those with a chronic health condition, such as asthma, chronic heart or lung disorders, or an impaired immune system, which puts them at high risk for complications of the flu. Except for pregnant women, healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 can be immunized with either the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine (fluMist). The flu vaccine should be given each year to household contacts or out-of-home caregivers of all children 59 months of age and younger (less than 5 years old) and to close contacts of others who are at high risk for complications of the flu.
Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR): Adults born during or after 1957 may need MMR immunization if they do not have evidence of immunity. Women should avoid becoming pregnant for 28 days after getting the MMR shot. Women who are known or suspected to be pregnant and people who have Impaired Immune Systems should NOT receive the MMR shot.
Pneumococcal Polysaccharide (PPV): This immunization is given to all people 65 years of age and older. It is recommended for those ages 2 to 64 who have a chronic disease, such as heart or lung disease, do not have a spleen, or have a damaged spleen. This shot is different from the pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) shot that is recommended for children. Most adults only need one shot of PPV for protection. Some people might need to get a booster shot after 5 years.
Polio (IPV): Routine polio immunization is not recommended for adults (age 18 and older) who live in the United States. However, immunization is recommended for adults that travel and placed at increased risk for exposure.
Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Tdap): For routine prevention, adults 19 to 64 years of age should have one dose of this booster shot instead of Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine. The Tdap shot is usually only given if it has been at least 10 years since a person’s last Td booster. (Td boosters are given every 10 years throughout life.) The CDC recommends getting Tdap in a period as short as 2 years from the last dose of Td for:
- People with greater risk for pertussis.
- Child care providers and other adults having close contact with infants less than 12 months old. Mothers would ideally get this dose before pregnancy.
- Health care workers with direct patient contact.
Meningococcal: The meningococcal conjugate (MCV4) vaccine called menactra is given to adolescents (children who are at least 11 through the teen years) and adults. Children between ages 2 and 10 and adults older than age 55 are immunized with the meningococcal polysaccharide (MPSV4) vaccine called menomune. The meningococcal vaccine should be considered for anyone 2 years of age and older who:
- Has a greater chance of becoming infected during an outbreak of bacterial meningitis;
- Has a damaged spleen or has had the spleen removed;
- Travels to or lives in areas of the world where meningitis is common, such as to certain parts of Africa or to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj; or
- Lives in a college dorm.
Shingles (herpes zoster): The zostavax vaccine helps to help prevent shingles. One dose is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older. Zostavax is not a substitute for the chickenpox vaccine (varivax). Ask your provider about the availability of zostavax.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV): The HPV vaccine (gardasil) protects against four types of HPV, which together cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Three shots are given over 6 months. Gardasil is recommended for females 13 to 26 years old who did not receive it when they were younger. Studies show that the vaccine is safe and works well to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts.