Vaccinations – Not Just for Kids, Adults Need Them Too!

August 5, 2014 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Immunity against some diseases can gradually fade away over the years.

Adults who have never received childhood vaccinations can have serious complications from diseases such as the flu, pertussis, or pneumonia. And for adults who did receive all the recommended vaccines as children, immunity against some diseases can gradually fade away over the years, meaning that booster shots are needed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults (19 to 65+ years) receive the following vaccines:

Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine

This vaccine protects against serious infections caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but certain people are at risk for complications. You should get the pneumonia vaccine if you are 65 or older. If you are younger than 65, you should get this shot if you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart or lung diseases, sickle cell disease, alcoholism, or cirrhosis. Other people who should get this shot are people with a weakened immune system, such as those with kidney failure, a damaged spleen or no spleen, HIV/AIDS, certain types of cancer, or those who smoke.


This shot protects against the seasonal influenza, or flu, virus. The best time to get your annual shot is as soon as the vaccine becomes available in your community, usually early fall.

Nearly everyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot each year, unless there is a specific reason not to get it, such as an allergy to the ingredients in the shot. Healthy adults up to age 49 may receive either a nasal spray version, which contains weakened, live virus, or the shot. Pregnant women and adults older than 50 should receive the injected form of the vaccine. A newer, somewhat stronger version of the flu shot is also available for older adults who may not respond to flu shots as vigorously as younger people.

Do not get a flu shot if you developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting a previous flu shot, or if you have a severe allergy to eggs. If you are currently ill, wait until your symptoms improve before getting a vaccination.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)

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 low, and you’re considering pregnancy, you’ll need a shot three months before conception. Women should avoid getting pregnant for at least four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women should wait to get this shot until after they have given birth.

If you are at least 18 and born after 1956, and you don’t know whether you have had the vaccine or the diseases, you should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine. Do not get 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

You should have this series of two shots if you live, work, or travel to countries where hepatitis A is prevalent, which includes most tropical regions of the world.

Also get this shot if you are military personnel, a food-service worker, a day-care center employee or you work or live in an institutional or group home. The vaccine is also recommended for intravenous drug users, those with chronic liver disease, and those with clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia.

Hepatitis B

People who are at least 19 years old and who have not had childhood vaccinations should have the series of three shots if they travel to countries where the hepatitis B virus (HBV) is common. You also should get this series if you have a job in which you may be exposed to blood or blood products, use intravenous drugs, have had more than one sexual partner in the past six months, have a sexually transmitted disease, or live with someone who has HBV.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease. Women with some types of HPV infections have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine is best given at age 11 or 12, but women who did not complete the childhood series can receive the vaccine up to age 26. The vaccine is also given to boys and young men ages 9 through 26 to reduce their chances of getting genital warts and possibly other cancers related to HPV.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Td/Tdap)

Most children receive a series of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis shots. Teens and adults should then have one tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster (Tdap) and then a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster every 10 years afterward.

Varicella-Zoster (Chickenpox)

A person born in the U.S. before 1966 is likely to have had chickenpox as a child—and already have immunity. Adults who have not had chickenpox should have two vaccine doses, usually given four to eight weeks apart. The CDC also recommends that anyone immunized before 2006 be re-immunized to boost immunity. You should not have this vaccination if you’re pregnant or are planning to become pregnant within four weeks of getting the vaccine.

Zoster (Shingles)

This vaccine should be given to all adults ages 60 and older to help prevent shingles, a painful reactivation of the chickenpox virus that lies dormant within the body. Exceptions are for those who have medical conditions or are taking medications that affect the immune system.

Meningococcal Vaccine (Haemophilus influenzae Type b-Hib)

This shot protects against bacterial meningitis. College freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at higher risk for meningococcal disease.

Vaccines Before Travel

Before traveling overseas, visit the CDC Travel Health site to learn which vaccines are recommended in the countries you’ll be visiting. 

Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent illness.  They are also affordable, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which requires many health plans to cover preventive services, including coverage for vaccines.

Learn more:

- Jamie R.
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