Kids Channel
Topics
Medications
Quicklinks
Related Channels

Vaccinations -- They're Not Just For Kids

Which Vaccines Are Recommended for Adults?

Immunization recommendations for adults aren't as straightforward as the childhood ones. The specific vaccines you need can vary, depending on several things, such as how old you are, what other health conditions you have, the vaccinations you've received in the past, your job and lifestyle, and whether you'll be traveling. 
 
There are four main vaccines that most adults will need to get. The timing of these vaccines varies. Two of these are recommended for everyone. These are:
 
  • The influenza (flu) vaccine, which you'll need to get every year.
     
  • The tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine and the tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine. You'll generally need to get the Tdap once, followed by your Td shot every 10 years.
 
You'll only need to consider the other two vaccines if you're at least 60 years old or older. These are:
 
  • The shingles vaccine, for adults 60 years of age and older
     
  • The pneumococcal vaccine, for adults 65 years of age and older (as well as younger adults with certain medical conditions).
 
In addition, you may need to "catch up" on a few vaccinations if you didn't get the full series as a child. Some of these vaccinations are new recommendations, so chances are good you didn't get all of the shots you needed as a child. Finally, some vaccines are recommended just for people who are considered high-risk for certain illnesses.
 

The Four Main Vaccines for Adults

Here's more information about the four vaccines you'll need as an adult, as well as the diseases they protect against.
 
Influenza Vaccine
Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is a potentially serious infection caused by flu viruses. Because flu viruses are constantly changing, scientists work hard to determine which viruses will be the most common for each flu season and change the flu vaccine based on this information. This is the main reason you need a flu vaccine every year.
 
The flu can cause serious problems. Some people who get the flu end up hospitalized for treatment. Thousands of others die each year from it.
 
Most people who get the flu only have mild symptoms and get better within a week. However, the flu is unpredictable. Anyone who gets it can develop a severe infection and serious complications, such as dehydration and pneumonia. Older adults and people with certain chronic health problems, such as diabetes and asthma, have a higher risk for having a serious flu illness and complications, so vaccination is especially important for these people. 
 
The flu virus spreads easily from person to person, making the flu a highly contagious illness. This is one of the reasons the vaccine is so important -- getting vaccinated not only protects you from the flu, but it also helps prevent you from spreading the flu to others you're around.
 
The flu vaccine is usually available in the fall. Your immune system takes time to respond to the vaccine, so you should try to get it as soon as it becomes available, before flu season starts (which is usually in November). However, flu season can last until spring, so it is not too late to get the vaccine after the flu season has begun.
 
Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis Vaccine
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis are three serious illnesses that are all caused by bacteria. Diphtheria and pertussis are spread from person to person, usually when someone who has the infection coughs or sneezes around an uninfected person. The bacteria that causes tetanus usually gets into the body through wounds, such as deep cuts or puncture wounds.
 
Tetanus can cause severe muscle spasms and stiffness. You've probably heard tetanus referred to as "lockjaw." This is because a common first symptom is a stiffening of the jaw muscles that causes the jaw to "lock" in place, making it difficult to open the mouth or swallow.
 
Diphtheria usually infects the nose and throat. It causes a thick, grey-colored membrane to form over the back of the throat, making it difficult to breathe. The bacteria that causes diphtheria makes a toxin that, if not properly treated, can spread through the body and cause heart damage, paralysis, and even death.
 
Pertussis is an infection of the respiratory system that causes uncontrollable coughing. A person with pertussis can have coughing fits that are so severe it makes it hard to breathe. Often, the coughing is followed by a "whooping" sound that occurs when the person inhales. This is the reason the illness is commonly called "whooping cough."
 
The tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine protects you against all three of these infections and helps reduce the risk that you'll spread diphtheria or pertussis to others. You'll need a one-time dose of this vaccination, which you can get at anytime. Afterward, you should get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) shot once every 10 years for a booster.
 
Women should get another Tdap shot each time they're pregnant. This helps protect their newborn child from whooping cough. Newborns are too young to get the Tdap vaccine, but can get extremely ill, or even die, if they catch whooping cough. 
 
Shingles Vaccine
Shingles is a condition caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus -- the same virus that causes chickenpox. After it causes chickenpox, the virus stays in certain nerves of the body, but goes dormant, which means it is still alive but is inactive. So, if you've ever had chickenpox, you have the chickenpox virus in your body.
 
Years later, if the virus becomes active again, it moves down the nerves, causing burning, tingling, pain, blisters, and other symptoms of shingles (see Shingles Symptoms to learn more). The pain from shingles can be extremely intense. Scientists don't know what causes the varicella-zoster virus to wake up and cause shingles, but they do know that people who are older or whose immune systems have been weakened by other medical problems or medications are more likely to develop it.
 
(Click Causes of Shingles to learn more about how the virus is reactivated.)
 
Shingles is a very common condition -- it occurs in about 1 million people in the United States each year. And while it can occur in anyone who has previously been infected with the varicella-zoster virus, it is more common in people who are older than 60 years of age. Getting the shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) is the only way to reduce the chance that you'll develop shingles.
 
The virus isn't 100 percent effective, so you can still have a case of shingles even if you've been vaccinated. However, people who receive the vaccine are less likely to have long-term complications, like chronic pain, if they do develop shingles.
 
The shingles vaccine is approved to help prevent the disease in people 50 years old and older. But the CDC only recommends it for people who are 60 years old and older. You can even get it if you've had shingles in the past.
 
Pneumococcal Vaccine
Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumoniae, also referred to as pneumococcus. Pneumococcus can cause several different types of infection, like ear infections, sinus infections, and pneumonia. But pneumococcus doesn't just infect the respiratory tract. This virus can also cause potentially life-threatening infections of the blood (bacteremia) and the tissue and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
 
Anyone can get pneumococcal disease. However, people younger than age 2 or older than age 65 have a higher risk for getting it. Thankfully, there's a pneumococcal vaccine that's highly effective at preventing serious types of pneumococcal disease, known as invasive pneumococcal disease.
 
There are actually two different pneumococcal vaccines: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar 13®) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Pneumovax®). The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 13 different types of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. It is a routine childhood vaccination, normally given to infants in four doses by the time they're 15 months old. Adults who are at risk for pneumococcal disease and haven't yet received the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine should get a dose of it. 
 
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against 23 different types of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. It is recommended for all adults 65 years of age and older. Younger adults who are at risk for pneumococcal disease should also get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. This means you should get the vaccine if you:
 
  • Have a chronic, long-term health problem, such as:
    • Heart disease
    • Lung disease (including asthma)
    • Liver disease
    • Kidney disease
    • Diabetes
    • Alcoholism
    • Sickle cell disease
 
  • Have a condition that places you at a higher risk for infection, such as HIV infection, cancer, a damaged spleen, or no spleen
     
  • Are taking a medication or receiving treatment that lowers your body's resistance to infection, such as anticancer medicines, radiation, or long-term steroids
     
  • Have cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks
     
  • Smoke
     
  • Live in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
 
For most people, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is a one-time dose. You might need a second shot, however, if you have a particularly high risk for pneumococcal disease. People who are 65 years old and older also need another dose if they received their first dose before the age of 65 and at least five years ago.
 
(Click Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine Dosage to learn more about who should receive a second dose, as well as certain situations that may affect when you receive the vaccine.)
 
A Dose of Reassurance for Parents of Picky Eaters

Medication Overview Information

Terms of Use
Advertise with Us
Contact Us
About eMedTV
Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2006-2017 Clinaero, Inc.
eMedTV serves only as an informational resource. This site does not dispense medical advice or advice of any kind. Site users seeking medical advice about their specific situation should consult with their own physician. Click Terms of Use for more information.