When you think of immunizations, naturally the first thing that comes to mind is childhood shots – from the first vaccinations at just weeks old until the ones for going off to college.
But vaccines for adults should be discussed with a primary care provider.
Dr. Laura Roe, an OSF HealthCare primary care physician, said there are several reasons an adult vaccine schedule is a hot topic these days.
- We’re more and more focused on preventive health and medicine, which includes vaccines. They’re a major part of staying healthy.
- Greater cultural attention to vaccines, especially in regard to COVID-19 and childhood immunizations, has brought the issue more into focus for adults.
- In the past 20 years or so, great advancements have been made in adult vaccines against various diseases.
“Adults need to remember that immunizations are safe and effective with very few side effects,” Dr. Roe said.
Need to know which immunizations you need?
You may want to ask your primary care provider what vaccines are mandatory for adults. Most vaccines are optional but highly recommended. Your primary care provider will know which vaccines are suitable for you and your health.
“Often, people don’t think they need particular vaccines, but when I explain why we have the vaccine and the consequences of not vaccinating or how that vaccine could protect them, they reconsider,” she said.
“The bottom line is the more information you have, the better you’ll be able to make a decision.”
- Influenza vaccine – These are recommended for anyone age 6 months or older to protect against the influenza virus. 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 protect yourself against flu viruses is to get a flu vaccine each year by the end of October, the start of flu season.
Important immunizations to consider
- COVID-19 vaccine – It’s important to get vaccinated to stop the spread of this deadly virus. 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, which can enter the body through broken skin. Although rare, tetanus can cause serious health problems and even death. Most adults should get a Td booster – which protects against tetanus and diphtheria – every 10 years. 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.
Pertussis, aka whooping cough, is a highly contagious airway infection that most often affects children. Although adults can get pertussis, it likely won’t be dangerous. It can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal for babies, however. “I remind fathers, grandparents or those in frequent contact with a newborn baby of this recommended vaccine,” Dr. Roe said. “Once you’ve had one Tdap dose as an adult, you don’t need another one. If you have a wound, such as a cut or puncture, check with your doctor to make sure your tetanus immunization is up to date.”
- HPV vaccine – Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations protect against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical, genital and oral cancer and genital warts. Infections with HPV are passed through direct skin contact during sexual activity. Most sexually active men and women will get HPV in their lifetime. Most won’t be aware they’ve been infected, as the virus often causes no symptoms. The vaccine is recommended for children starting at age 11, adults who didn’t receive the vaccine as a child, 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 – Pneumococcal vaccines protect against specific strains of pneumonia. 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 recommended for all adults 65 and older as well as adults ages 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’ve had chickenpox when the virus reactivates. There are two vaccines available to prevent shingles: Shingrix and Zostavax. Shingrix is the preferred vaccine as it is not a live vaccine and is more effective than Zostavax.
- MMR vaccine – People born between 1957 and 1989 may not be fully protected against measles, because they likely only received one dose of the measles vaccine. Certain groups of people are at increased risk of contracting measles and should ensure they’ve had two doses of MMR vaccines. This includes college students, health care workers and international travelers.
- Hepatitis A – The hepatitis A virus is transmitted by contaminated food or water. Hep A and B can cause serious infections of the liver, so considering a hepatitis vaccine is important. The hep A vaccine is recommended for all adults, but is especially recommended for anyone who travels.
- Hepatitis B – The hepatitis B virus is transmitted when blood or other bodily fluids enter the body of an uninfected person. The risk of liver cancer also increases for those infected with hep B. The hep B vaccine is recommended for 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
“Getting immunized not only protects you but those around you,” Dr. Roe said. “Sometimes adults don’t think they need the flu shot because they’re young and healthy, but they may be around children or elderly people who are more vulnerable.”
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 talk to their primary care provider about their 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.
Last Updated: October 3, 2022