Immunization Guidelines for Adults
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
A vaccine is a medicine given to produce antibodies against an infection. This lowers the risk of the infection happening. Most vaccines are given to us as children. But many adults are not aware that they could still benefit from new vaccinations and booster doses of ones they got in the past. Many infections also spread from person to person. Getting vaccinated also helps protect those around you from getting these diseases.
Here are the ones you may need to get:
The flu is usually mild in young people, but it can be deadly in adults. It can cause fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly influenza vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. The vaccines protect against the most common current strains of the flu. Be sure to get the vaccine before the flu season starts. This can be as early as October.
Pneumococcal disease is any infection caused by a specific strep bacteria. It can cause pneumonia, meningitis, blood infections, middle ear infections, and sinus infections. There are two types of vaccines.
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) protects against 13 types of bacteria. It is given to adults 19 to 64 years of age with certain health problems. Adults 65 years or older can talk to their doctors about whether to get the vaccine. Only one shot is needed.
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PPSV23) protects against 23 types. One shot of PPSV23 is given to all adults 65 years of age or older. One to two shots may be given to those 19 to 64 years of age who have certain health problems or smoke cigarettes.
Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium that can enter the body through a scratch or wound. It can cause jaw stiffness, neck stiffness, belly stiffness, problems swallowing, and muscle spasms. Tetanus is a serious disease that can be deadly.
Diphtheria is caused by a bacterium. It can spread from person to person. It causes a severe sore throat and a fever. It can also lead to breathing problems, coma, and death.
Pertussis (whooping cough) is caused by a bacterium that releases toxins in the body. It spreads easily and can be deadly. The infection and toxins cause a thick coating in the nose and throat. It can make it hard to breathe.
Most people got a series of shots called DTaP when they were children to protect them from all three infections. A shot of another vaccine called Tdap also protects against these infections. Tdap is given to adults if they did not get the Tdap vaccine when they were older children. A booster dose of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td) should be given every 10 years. It may be given earlier after a severe wound or burn. One dose is also given during each pregnancy.
Varicella (chickenpox) is a viral infection. It spreads easily through the air or by touching a chickenpox sore. Chickenpox is a mild disease in children, but it can be severe or deadly in adults. It can cause aching, tiredness, fever, and sore throat. It also causes an itchy, blister-like rash all over the body.
People who have had chickenpox are protected from getting it again. Adults who never had chickenpox or have never been vaccinated should get a series of 2 doses of the varicella vaccine.
Herpes zoster is a viral infection of the nerves and skin. It is also known as shingles. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lies inactive in the body after a person recovers from chickenpox. It can reactivate later in life as shingles. It can cause a painful rash, blisters, fever, and tiredness. Some adults may have lasting nerve pain.
Adults 50 years of age and older should get the shingles vaccine. It is given in a series of 2 doses.
Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) are viral infections that are now rare thanks to vaccines. Measles can cause rash, fever, and cold symptoms. Mumps can cause swelling of the salivary glands, meningitis, and loss of hearing. Rubella can cause rash, fever, and birth defects.
Adults born in the US before 1957 are considered to be immune. Those who are unsure whether they are immune should get at least 1 dose of the MMR vaccine. Adults who will be in high risk settings may need a series of 2 doses. These include students in college, healthcare workers, and international travelers.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomaviruses (HPV) can cause genital warts. Some strains are linked to cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine is given to children 11 and older. It can also be given to adults 19 to 26 years of age. It is given in a series of 3 doses. Some adults 27 to 45 years of age may also get a 2 or 3 dose series of the vaccine after talking with their doctor.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are viral infections of the liver. Hepatitis A is passed from person to person through close contact with someone who is infected. A person can get it from objects, food, or drinks that used by an infected person. Hepatitis B is spread from person to person through blood, semen, or other body fluids of someone who is infected. Both infections can cause harm to the liver.
Adults who were not vaccinated as children and want protection can get the hepatitis A or B vaccine. The hepatitis A vaccine is given as a series of 2 shots. It can be given as a series of 3 shots when combined with the HepB vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of 2 or 3 shots. It can also be given as a series of 3 shots when combined with the HepA vaccine.
People who are exposed to a virus, travel abroad, work in certain settings, or have certain health problems may need more vaccines. Some people should also not get certain vaccines due to allergies or health problems. Talk to your doctor to learn more about which ones are right for you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute on Aging
Immunizations in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/immunizations-in-adults. Accessed October 28, 2021.
Recommended adult immunization schedules for ages 19 years or older, United States, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/adult.html. Accessed October 28, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/28/2021
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