Ask The Experts: Vaccines For Adults?
Q: Many of us get vaccinations when we’re children, but don’t have any as adults. Are there vaccinations or boosters that we should make sure we get as we age and if so, what are they and when should we be getting them?
A. Yes, adults should get vaccines!
Far too many adults become ill, are disabled, and die each year from diseases that could easily have been prevented by vaccines. Some of the vaccines we received as children protect us for the rest of our lives, but with others (like tetanus and pertussis), immunity can wane over time. As we age, we also become more susceptible to certain diseases like influenza (which causes the flu) and pneumococcus (which is a cause of pneumonia). In addition, there are vaccines available now (like the chicken pox, shingles, and HPV vaccines) that were not available when we were children.
Influenza: You need a dose every fall (or winter) for your protection and for the protection of others around you.
Pneumococcal: All adults over age 65 and many younger than age 65 should discuss a pneumonia shot with their provider. Do you smoke? Do you have asthma, diabetes, or liver disease? If so, you are at risk and should get this vaccine.
Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis: All adults should get a Tdap booster once to help prevent tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td booster every 10 years (for the tetanus and diptheria components).
Varicella (Chicken Pox and Shingles): All adults should get two doses of the Varicella immunization if they aren’t immune to chicken pox. Your healthcare provider can order a blood test to see if you are immune. Most people that have had chicken pox are immune. If you are over 60, you should get an extra-strong immunization of varicella (the Zoster vaccine) that will help prevent shingles.
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus): Isn’t it amazing that they have a vaccine that can prevent most causes of cervical cancer? Women under age 26 should receive three doses of HPV vaccine.
MMR: Women who might get pregnant in the future should find out well in advance if they are immune to rubella with a blood test. If not, they should get an MMR shot. There are other situations, like international travel, that may be an indication for this immunization.
You should also discuss immunizations for meningitis, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B with your health care provider. These immunizations are indicated if you have risk factors, or if you simply wish to be protected from these diseases.
Do you travel outside the United States? If so, you may need additional vaccines.
Vaccines aren’t just for kids. Everyone from young adults to senior citizens can benefit from immunizations.
It can be difficult to understand or keep track of exactly which vaccines you need. Use the screening form on the CDC Web site (cdc.gov) to help you understand what vaccines might be important for you. Questions on the form help you and your health care provider decide which vaccines you need and when to get them. You can print the form, fill it out, and take it with you to your next appointment.