Adult Immunizations: Are You Up-to-Date?

Immunizations aren't just for children. Adults need immunizations, too.

Although children receive the majority of the vaccinations, adults also need to stay up-to-date on certain vaccinations, including tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, zoster, human papillomavirus (HPV) in females, pneumococcal (polysaccharide), hepatitis A and B, flu, and meningococcal. Immunizations are important for adults as well as for children. Here's why: Adults who have never received childhood vaccinations can experience serious complications from these diseases as an adult. Vaccines contain dead or weakened germs that trigger the immune system to respond and build immunity. Ask your doctor which of the following shots you may need.


This vaccine protects against pneumococcal disease. This disease can cause:

  • Pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs that frequently leads to death in elderly adults.

  • Septicemia. This is an overwhelming bacterial infection in the bloodstream. It can be fatal.

  • Meningitis. This is a bacterial infection of the covering of the brain. It is a serious illness that can be fatal. 

According to the CDC, about one in 20 people who get pneumococcal pneumonia dies from it. Three in 10 people who get meningitis also die. Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but the people at greatest risk are those who are 65 and older, very young people, and people with special health problems. 

You should get the pneumonia vaccine if you 65 or older. If you are younger than 65, you should get this shot if you have a chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart or lung diseases, sickle cell disease, alcoholism, and cirrhosis. Other people who should get this shot are people with a weakened immune system, such those with kidney failure, a damaged spleen or no spleen, HIV/AIDS, or certain types of cancer. Alaskan Natives and certain American Indians are also at higher risk. The vaccine usually is given once. People who are 65 or older who received their first pneumonia shot before they were 65 need a second shot if it's been at least five years have passed. Others who will need a second immunization include those with a damaged spleen, sickle-cell disease, HIV/AIDS, some cancers, kidney failure, and organ or bone marrow transplants.


This shot protects against the influenza virus. The flu virus causes chills, headache, sore throat, dry cough, runny nose, and body aches. About 36,000 people die from the flu each year, the CDC says. Most of the people who die from the flu are elderly adults. The best time to get your annual shot is in October or November.

Who should receive it? You should get an annual flu shot if you are 50 or older. If you are younger than 50, you should get a flu shot if you have diabetes or chronic heart, kidney, blood, or lung problems, such as asthma and emphysema. People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities should get a flu shot. Health care providers and women who will be in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during flu season should get a flu shot. Many health care providers encourage all adults to have the shot annually.

You should avoid getting a flu shot if you developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of getting a previous flu shot, of if have a severe allergy to eggs.

Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)

This shot protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Rubella is also called German measles.

You should get this shot if you are a woman of childbearing age and your immunity to MMR is low. This can be determined by a blood test. If your immunity is not up to par and you're considering pregnancy, you'll need a shot three months before conception. Women should avoid getting pregnant for four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women should wait to get this shot until after they have given birth.

A person who is 18 years or older, who was born after 1956, and does not know if he or she had the vaccine or the diseases should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.

You should avoid getting this shot if you are ill at the time the immunization is scheduled, or if you have had an allergic reaction to gelatin, neomycin, or a previous dose of MMR.

Hepatitis A

This vaccine protects against hepatitis A, a liver infection.

You should have this shot if you live, work, or travel outside the United States. Also get this shot if you are military personnel, a food-service worker, or a day-care center employee. These people should also get this vaccine: men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users, those with chronic liver disease, and those with clotting-factor disorders such as hemophilia. You should also get this vaccine if you work or live in an institution or group home. This vaccination is now given to all children. Because of this, fewer adults will need hepatitis A vaccine in the future.

Hepatitis B

This series of shots protects against a potentially deadly liver disease that can lead to liver cancer.

This vaccine is routinely given to newborns. All unvaccinated teens 18 and younger should get the full series of vaccinations. People who are 19 years or older who have not had the vaccinations should have the series if they travel to countries where the hepatitis B virus (HBV) is common. You should also get this series if you have a job in which you may be exposed to blood or blood products. An example would be a laboratory or hospital worker. Other people who should have this vaccine are intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, those who have had more than one sexual partner in the past six months, and those who have a sexually transmitted disease. You should have this vaccination if you live in a household with someone who has HBV. Clients and staff of institutions for the developmentally disabled and people on kidney dialysis also should have the immunization. 

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts called condylomas, which can occur on the inside or outside areas of the genitals and may spread to the surrounding skin or to a sexual partner. Because HPV infection does not always cause warts, the infection may go undetected. Women with an HPV infection have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests can detect HPV infection, as well as abnormal cervical cells. However, the HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine is given at age 11 or 12, but women who did not complete the childhood series can receive the vaccine up to age 26.

Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis booster

Most children receive a series of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis shots. The last in the series is typically given by age 6. Teens and adults should have a tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster every 10 years.

The booster can be given to children as young as 10, the CDC says. It can be given to teens and to adults up to age 64.


This shot protects against chickenpox, a contagious viral infection that can be fatal in adults.

The CDC recommends a single dose of the vaccine for children 12 months to 12 years old. Teens 13 years and older and adults not immunized should have two doses, usually given four to eight weeks apart. If a person was born in United States before 1966, it is likely he or she already has immunity from having chickenpox as a child.

The CDC also recommends that any child, adolescent, or adult immunized before 2006 be re-immunized to boost waning immunity. 

You should not have this vaccination if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant within four weeks of getting the vaccine.

Meningococcal vaccine (Hib)

This shot protects against bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis. All young children now get this vaccine.

College freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at higher risk for meningococcal disease. If you are a college freshman, ask your health care provider about this vaccine. You should also consider getting this vaccine if you travel to countries where Hib is common.


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