Young adult male with bandage on arm after receiving vaccine.

Vaccinations: They’re for adults, too

When you think of immunizations, naturally the first thing that comes to mind are milestones of a child’s life – from the first vaccinations they receive when they’re just weeks old until the ones they get as they go off to college.

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But it’s important for adults to remember immunizations are something they also should discuss with their primary care provider.

Dr. Laura Roe, with OSF Medical Group – Primary Care, said there are several reasons adult immunizations are a hot topic these days.

“First, I think all of us becoming more and more focused on our health and preventive medicine, which includes vaccines, is a major part of staying healthy,” she said. “Second, I think the overall attention to vaccinations in the media, especially in regards to COVID-19 and childhood immunizations, has brought the issue into greater focus for adults. And third, in the past 20 years or so, there has been great advancement in adult vaccines against various diseases.”

Immunizations for adults

Even if an adult was fully immunized as a child, they still need to know what immunizations are important as they move through adulthood, Dr. Roe said.

A number of vaccines available to adults should be considered, she said. Examples:

  • Influenza vaccine –These are recommended for anyone age 6 months or older to protect against the influenza virus. The vaccine is offered seasonally, and patients should get a flu shot by the end of October. Influenza is a respiratory illness that is caused by a virus. It can cause mild or severe illness and even death. The best way to guard against getting the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year.
  • COVID-19 vaccine: As we continue to live in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important to get vaccinated to stop the spread of this deadly virus. Vaccine options include the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Being vaccinated protects you from becoming seriously ill from the virus, which may result in hospitalization and possibly death.
  • Tetanus vaccine – Tetanus vaccines are recommended for people of all ages. Tetanus is an infection caused by a bacteria. The bacteria produces spores found in the environment, in dust, dirt and soil. The spores can enter the body through broken skin, from an injury such as a cut or a puncture wound. Although tetanus is rare, it can cause serious health problems and even death. There are several vaccines that protect against tetanus as well as other illnesses. Most adults should get a Td booster every 10 years (this protects against both tetanus and diphtheria). Pregnant women should receive the Tdap vaccine (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis/whooping cough) during the third trimester to help protect against whooping cough in infants.  This can be given regardless of last tetanus immunization. Adults who have never received Tdap should also get one dose of Tdap in place of a dose of Td.
    “I particularly remind patients who are going to be fathers, grandparents or coming in frequent contact with a newborn baby of this recommended vaccine,” Dr. Roe said. “Once you have had one Tdap dose as an adult, you don’t need to repeat the dose. It is important if you have a wound, such as a cut or puncture, that you check with your doctor to make sure your tetanus immunization is up to date.”
  • HPV vaccine – The HPV vaccine protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that is passed by direct skin contact during sexual activity. Most sexually active men and women will get HPV in their lifetime. Most will not be aware they have been infected, as the virus often causes no symptoms. Some types of HPV can cause cancer and genital warts. HPV can cause cervical cancer, as well as genital and oral cancer. The vaccine protects against the HPV types that most commonly cause cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is recommended in children starting at age 11, but some adults should receive the vaccine as well. For adults who did not receive the vaccine as a child, the HPV vaccine is recommended for men up to age 21 and women up to age 26. However, the Federal Drug Administration recently approved the use of the HPV vaccine in men and women ages 27 to 45.
  • Pneumonia vaccine – Pneumonia vaccines protect against specific strains of the pneumococcal bacteria. These bacteria commonly cause pneumonia as well as other infections. There are two different vaccines to protect against pneumococcal bacteria.  The first is Prevnar 13 (PCV 13). This vaccine is recommended for all adults 65 or older as well as adults under 65 with an immune-compromising condition. The second vaccine is pneumovax 23 (PPSV 23). This is recommend for all adults 65 and older as well as adults aged 19-65 who smoke or have other chronic medical conditions.
  • Shingles vaccine – Shingles is a blistering, painful rash that can have lasting complications. It occurs in people who have had the chicken pox in the past and the chicken pox virus reactivates. There are currently two vaccines available for shingles: Shingrix and Zostavax. Shingrix is the preferred vaccine as it is not a live vaccine and is more effective than Zostavax.
  • MMR vaccine – With the recent rise of measles cases, measles has been getting more attention. People born between 1957 and 1989 likely only received one dose of the measles vaccine. As a result, they may not be fully protected. Certain groups of people are at increased risk of contracting measles and should ensure they have had two MMR vaccines. Those include college students, health care workers and international travelers. Your doctor can help you determine if you need a booster or testing for measles immunity.
  • Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B – There are serious infections of the liver caused by a virus. The hep A virus is transmitted by contaminated food or water. The hep B virus is transmitted when blood or other bodily fluids enter the body of an uninfected person. The hep A vaccine is recommended for all adults, but would especially be recommended for anyone who travels. The hep B vaccine is recommended for certain populations, including people at risk for exposure to blood (such as health care workers and dialysis patients), people at risk for sexual exposure and people with hepatitis C, HIV or chronic liver disease.

Protecting yourself and those around you

“Adults need to remember that immunizations are safe and effective with very few side effects,” Dr. Roe said. “Also, getting immunized not only protects yourself but helps to protect those around you. I sometimes have adults say they don’t need the flu shot because they are young and healthy, but they may be around young children or elderly people who are more vulnerable.

Female patient consulting physician about vaccination

“I would recommend any time you are unsure about whether a vaccine is needed, you should be asking your doctor, ‘Why should I get this vaccine?’ Often, I will have patients tell me they don’t need a particular vaccine, but when I explain why we have the vaccine and what the consequences of not vaccinating may be or how that vaccine could protect them, they often reconsider,” she said. “The bottom line is that the more information you have, the better you will be able to make a decision.”

In addition, Dr. Roe recommends international travelers visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization websites for travel advisories and information on vaccines and outbreaks by travel destination. Those looking to travel abroad should visit the Travel Health Clinic at OSF Medical Group – College Avenue in Bloomington for a travel consultation and immunizations.

Talk to your doctor today

Schedule an appointment with your doctor and ask about what vaccines you should be getting to protect yourself and those around you. If you need a primary care provider, click here to find one near you.

About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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Categories: Preventive Health