Adults Should Keep Up on Vaccines, Too

From influenza and pneumococcal to hepatitis B and shingles, vaccines are key to staying healthy

You may think your days of sitting in the doctor’s office with a cotton ball on your shoulder are over. While your shots may not come with a superhero bandage anymore, there are a number of immunizations that you should make sure to keep up with as a grownup.

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“Vaccine immunity does wane over time,” explains family medicine physician Neha Vyas, MD. “So, vaccines that we got as children may no longer be effective.”

Dr. Vyas, family medicine specialist Laura Lipold, MD, and geriatric and internal medicine specialist Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, break down the different vaccines you should stay up to date with.

Importance of vaccines beyond childhood

Whether you’re entering your college years or just became an empty nester, there are still immunizations to get in order to stay protected against an array of diseases.

“Bacteria and viruses mutate over time, so you need to make sure that you’re aware of the different strains and how these vaccines will help prevent against or lessen the severity of these illnesses,” explains Dr. Vyas.

She stresses the importance of protecting yourself against different virus strains by getting routinely vaccinated as needed. Plus, vaccinations help keep up “herd immunity” — which is when enough people get a vaccine and become immune, making a disease unlikely to be able to spread.

“If everybody gets vaccinated, then some of these illnesses will actually go away,” Dr. Vyas notes.

Keep in mind, your specific vaccine recommendations will depend on a number of factors, including: 

  • Your age. 
  • Your previous immunizations. 
  • Your job/occupation. 
  • Your recent travel destinations. 
  • Your sexual health and lifestyle. 

Vaccines for all adults under 50

Flu (influenza) vaccine

Even in your 20s, 30s and beyond, the flu vaccine is still something you should keep up with on a yearly basis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting this vaccine right ahead of flu season — ideally in early fall and before the end of October.

This annual vaccine protects against influenza and it’s recommended for everyone 6 months old and older. It’s especially important for people who are pregnant, older adults and people with chronic health conditions like diabetes or heart, lung, kidney or an immune disease. It’s also highly recommended for those in contact with high-risk patients or who care for infants under 6 months old.

HPV vaccine for adults

If you’re an adult between the ages of 19 and 45, you should receive the HPV vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus can cause diseases like cervical cancers and genital warts. This vaccine was originally recommended for individuals up to age 26, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended that age range up to age 45. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated and are at risk, talk to a healthcare provider about getting this vaccine at your next appointment.

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MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella

This vaccine is especially necessary because it’s a three-in-one. The MMR vaccine, which is recommended for adults under 50, protects against measles, mumps and rubella. If you’re a parent, you probably recognize the MMR vaccine because it’s one of the many recommended for children, with the first dose given between the ages of 12 and 15 months, and the second dose given between 4 and 6 years of age.

If you received this vaccine as a child, you’re in the clear. But it would be safe to check with your provider to see if you’re up to date with all the doses you need (and how to tell if you still have immunity to measles, mumps and rubella).

Hepatitis B vaccine

The hepatitis B vaccine is strongly recommended for adults ages 19 through 59. It protects against hepatitis B, which is an infection that attacks your liver and can cause serious illness. It became a part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in the mid-1980s, so depending on when you were born, you may or may not have received this vaccine. If not, you should make sure to get this vaccine in order to be protected.

Ideally, the sooner you can get it the better, but there are cases where adults over 60 with a high risk for hepatitis b can receive the vaccine.

COVID-19 vaccine

As researchers continue to study different strains of COVID-19, it’s still important to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. According to the CDC, it’s important for everyone ages 6 months and older to stay up to date with a series of vaccinations against COVID-19, including all boosters.

“I think the benefit of the COVID-19 booster is that the infectious disease research is showing that if you receive it, there is a 79% decreased chance of being admitted to the hospital or dying from COVID,” says Dr. Hashmi. “And now we have the bivalent vaccine, which is a part of the recommended vaccination schedule as well.”

Depending on the brand of vaccine you receive, you’ll be asked to come back three to four weeks following each dose to receive the full series of injections and booster shots. You are only fully up to date when you get all the included boosters.

Diphtheria/tetanus vaccine (DT)

You likely received the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) vaccine as a child as part of a five-dose combination vaccine. But all adults ages 19 and over should continue receiving a diphtheria/tetanus (DT) vaccine booster every 10 years, as this immunization wanes.

Varicella vaccine for adults

The CDC recommends two doses of the varicella vaccine, which prevents chickenpox, for children and adults. Children in the United States began receiving this vaccine in 1995. If you didn’t receive this vaccine as a child, and never had chickenpox, you should schedule with a provider to receive this immunization now.

The CDC also recently updated their recommendations for US-born residents, stating that individuals born before 1980 (excluding people who are pregnant and healthcare workers) may have immunity. 

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Vaccines for adults 50 and over 

Even into retirement, there are a couple of specific immunizations that are important to keep you healthy.

“After the age of 65 and especially after the age of 80, for every one of us, the immune system starts to go down, which makes us more susceptible to infection,” explains Dr. Hashmi.

Shingrix vaccine

The Shingrix® vaccine protects against shingles — a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, there’s a risk that the virus could become active again. That’s why this vaccine is strongly recommended for people 50 and over. 

Pneumococcal vaccine

This vaccine helps prevent pneumococcus bacterial infections, which can lead to ear infections, strep throat, pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections. It’s recommended for adults 65 and older and for people who smoke or other high-risk adults (of any age) with diabetes, cancer or heart, lung or immune disease.

Depending on your overall health and lifestyle, you may receive either a one-time vaccine or you may need a follow-up booster a year after your initial vaccination (this will depend on the type of vaccine you received). Talk to your healthcare provider about what is best for you. 

Vaccines for overseas travel

Gearing up to see the world? Before hopping on that plane or shipping off on a cruise, be sure to know what vaccines you may need before you leave. When it comes to vaccines needed for travel, it’ll depend on which country you’re visiting. One easy way to do this is to go to the CDC’s website and input your travel destination.

In general, if you’re traveling overseas from the United States, you can expect to need vaccinations against illnesses like: 

  • COVID-19 (boosters included). 
  • Typhoid. 
  • Rabies. 
  • Cholera.
  • Polio.
  • Yellow fever. 
  • Japanese encephalitis 

Vaccines for healthcare workers

If you work in healthcare, it’s important that you stay current on all the vaccines listed above, along with some special immunizations required for providers working in certain areas, such as the meningococcal vaccine.

How to test your immunity

While your vaccination requirements may change as you age, it can also depend on your immunity as well. If you’re wondering how equipped your body is to fight back against certain diseases, you may consider getting an antibody test. Depending on your results, you may find out you’re immune or more protected against certain diseases. Or in other cases, it may be recommended for you to get additional boosters for protection. 

If you haven’t received any vaccinations since you sat in your pediatrician’s office as a kid, it’s time to ensure your immunity is where it should be. Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss your vaccinations and what you need to keep healthy and protected.

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