Immunizations for Adults
Keep up with vaccines through life's stages to protect your health.

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Immunizations for Adults

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) release new recommendations for adult immunization schedules. The schedules can change based on developments in vaccine research, disease outbreaks and other information. If the situation justifies it, the CDC sometimes will recommend specific immunizations before releasing the annual schedule.

With so many vaccines, it's important to work with your doctor. Your doctor can help keep your immunizations up to date and keep copies of your immunization records.

Some adults, including pregnant women and people with some health conditions, should not get certain vaccines or they may need other vaccines or booster shots. Members of the military, international travelers, recent immigrants and those in certain professions may need booster shots or have special circumstances. Ask your doctor for details.

Here are the recommended immunizations for most healthy adults:

Tetanus, diphtheria (Td) or Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap)
Tdap is usually a one-time dose. Previously vaccinated adults should get a booster shot every 10 years to protect against:

  • Tetanus: potentially deadly illness that causes painful tightening of the muscles and locking of the jaw.
  • Diphtheria: an infection of the throat that can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and death.
  • Pertussis: a disease that causes sticky, thick mucus to build up in the windpipe. Also called whooping cough, pertussis can lead to pneumonia and seizures. Susceptible infants may die of the disease, so the CDC recommends people get the Tdap vaccine at least two weeks before coming in close contact with an infant.

Most adults should get a flu vaccine (shot or nasal spray) each year to protect against influenza (flu). Influenza is a contagious viral illness that causes fever, cough and muscle aches. It can be complicated by pneumonia. It kills tens of thousands of people every year.

This vaccine is recommended for adults 65 and older. But certain adults should get this vaccine even if they are under 65: those who smoke cigarettes, have a chronic illness such as lung disease (including asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), live in a home for the chronically ill or nursing home, have a weakened immune system, are leaking cerebral spinal fluid, or who have or are planning to have a cochlear implant.

Pneumococcal bacteria can cause serious infections of the lungs (pneumonia), the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), and the blood (sepsis). This shot provides protection against the bacterium.

Depending on your health status, one or two vaccines may be used either alone, or in combination, or as a revaccination.  However, the two vaccines are never given at the same time.

  • PCV13 protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria.
  • PPSV23 protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.

Measles, mumps and rubella
Generally, adults born in 1957 or later and who have not had any of these diseases should get this vaccine to protect against:

  • Measles: a highly contagious disease that can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death.
  • Mumps: a viral infection characterized by swelling of the salivary glands near the neck. It can lead to deafness, meningitis, painful swelling of the testicles or ovaries and, rarely sterility.
  • Rubella: a viral illness that causes a rash, mild fever and arthritis (mostly in women). Also known as German measles, rubella can cause birth defects or miscarriage if a woman is infected during the first three months of her pregnancy.

Adults may not need this vaccine if they can show that they have been vaccinated or had all three diseases. Some adults, including pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions, should not get this vaccine. Health care workers who can't prove immunity and were born before 1957 should be vaccinated. Ask your doctor for details.

Adults who have not had chickenpox or have not received the chickenpox vaccine should get it to protect against this common childhood disease. Chickenpox (varicella) is usually mild, but it can be serious, especially in young infants, teens, pregnant women and adults. Chickenpox causes a rash that turns into blisters with itching. Other common symptoms include fever and fatigue. It can lead to severe skin infection, scars, pneumonia, brain damage or death.

Some adults should not get this vaccine. Ask your doctor for details.

Hepatitis A
Some adults should get a series of shots to protect against Hepatitis A, a viral disease that attacks the liver. It causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, jaundice, nausea and stomach pains. Hepatitis A is usually spread through close personal contact. Sometimes, drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food spreads hepatitis A. An infected person may also have no symptoms.

Hepatitis B
All unvaccinated adults at risk for hepatitis B infection should be vaccinated to protect against it. Hepatitis B is a viral disease that can cause acute short-term symptoms such as loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting, jaundice, pain in muscles, joints and stomach, and fatigue. It can also lead to liver failure and liver cancer. Unvaccinated people younger than 60 who have diabetes mellitus should be vaccinated. Those age 60 or older who have diabetes mellitus should also receive the vaccine if their doctor recommends it. This recommendation is based on the person's individual situation.

Risk factors may include: sexual lifestyle, health care professions, past or current drug use, kidney or liver conditions or HIV, exposure to those with hepatitis B, and other circumstances. Ask your doctor if you may be at risk. People in ill health and certain other adults should not get a hepatitis B vaccine. Check with your doctor.

Some people who become infected with hepatitis B develop chronic hepatitis. Your doctor can discuss precautions for you and those close to you to help avoid spreading the infection.

Some adults should get this vaccine to protect against meningococcal infections. The meningococcal bacteria can cause a serious infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and blood (sepsis). Symptoms can include sudden fever, headache and stiff neck. Nausea, vomiting, confusion or increased sensitivity to light also may occur.

Two types of vaccines are used, depending on age. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) is the preferred vaccine for people 55 and younger. Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) has been available since the 1970s. It is licensed for people older than 55. Ask your doctor if you may be in a higher risk group or whether you should not get this vaccine.

Shingles (herpes zoster)
All adults age 60 and older should get this vaccine to protect against shingles, which is caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant (inactive) in your nerves. Later, often after decades, the virus may reactivate as shingles.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)
There are two types of HPV vaccine, HPV2 and HPV4.

Getting the HPV2 or HPV4 vaccine through age 26 is recommended for young women who haven't been vaccinated or completed the full series. Getting the HPV4 vaccine through age 21 is recommended for young men who have not completed the full series or have not been vaccinated. Men between 22 and 26 years old may also receive HPV4. Getting the HPV4 vaccine through age of 26 is also recommended for men who have sex with men, are immuncocompromised and have not completed the full series, or who haven't been vaccinated.

The vaccine protects against: HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus in America. More than half of sexually active women and men are infected with HPV at some time during their lives. The HPV vaccine offers protection from the viruses that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancers.

HPV is also associated with some less common cancers in males and females. Two vaccines exist. One is more commonly given to girls, while the other is given to girls and boys.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 11/22/2000
Updated on 08/13/2014
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine information statements. Facts about VISs.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine information statements.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014 recommended immunizations for adults by age.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines and immunizations.
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