Adult Immunizations

What are immunizations?

The immune system is how your body fights against infection. Immunizations (also called vaccines) are medicines to help your immune system protect you from infection. Some immunizations require more than one shot, and others can be given in just one shot. Some immunizations work best if you get a booster shot every few years. If you don’t get all the shots you need to be immunized, you may be at risk for getting sick.

Keeping up to date with your shots may keep you from getting a serious disease. The shots make it much less likely that you will get sick. If you do get the infection after you get the vaccine, you may not get as sick as you would if you had not been vaccinated.

What immunizations do adults need?

Adults should have immunizations to protect against the following diseases.

  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis are diseases caused by bacteria.
    • Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is a disease that enters your body through cuts and scratches. Tetanus causes severe muscle spasms, including the muscles of the head and neck. It can cause death.
    • Diphtheria is spread from person to person. It causes a thick coating on throat that can lead to breathing problems and death.
    • Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is easily spread from person to person. It can cause severe coughing and vomiting. It can be a dangerous infection for babies, who might catch it from adults. Adults can be carriers without being sick or having symptoms.

    Adults and older children are given either Tdap, which gives protection against all 3 illnesses, or Td, which gives protection against tetanus and diphtheria:

    • If you didn’t get the 3-shot series of shots for these infections as a child, you should get them now.
    • One dose of Tdap is recommended for all teens and adults, even if you have had tetanus vaccines as a child. It can be given in place of a tetanus booster. Then get a Td booster every 10 years.
    • If you have an animal bite, or a cut or puncture wound that has dirt or rusty metal in it, and your last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago (or you don’t know when you had your last shot), get a Td or Tdap shot as soon as possible after the injury.
    • Pregnant women should get the Tdap shot after the 20th week of pregnancy, preferably during the last trimester of pregnancy (weeks 27 to 40). This is recommended for each pregnancy.
  • Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus that is easily spread from person to person. It causes fever, headaches, body aches, sore throat, and cough. Adults and children 6 months and older should get a flu shot every year. October is the best time to get the vaccine. Getting a flu shot is especially important for people who are old, very young or who have a chronic health condition. It’s also important for pregnant women to get a flu shot.

    If you think you are allergic to eggs, talk to your healthcare provider before getting the vaccine. The flu vaccine is available as a shot or nasal spray. Ask your healthcare provider about which form is best for you.

  • Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria and is spread from person to person. The bacteria can cause serious infections of the blood or the covering of the brain (meningitis). The pneumococcal shot is recommended for all adults 65 and older. Your healthcare provider may recommend the shot if you are younger than 65 and have health problems, such as diabetes, lung, heart or kidney problems or an immune system illness like HIV.

Other shots you may need are:

  • Chickenpox (varicella) is a common childhood rash caused by a virus. The virus is passed from person to person. Chickenpox can cause serious problems, such as high fevers or swelling in the brain, for adults who have never had the disease. Two shots of the vaccine are recommended if you have never had chickenpox.
  • Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The pain caused by shingles can last for months or years after the rash is gone. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It is most common in middle-aged or older adults. Adults 60 years of age and older should get the shingles vaccine. The vaccine does not always prevent shingles, but it can lessen the pain if you do get shingles.
  • Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. You can get this infection if you touch something infected with the virus and then touch your mouth. Hepatitis A is often spread by eating food that has been touched by an infected person who has not washed their hands after going to the bathroom. Talk to your provider to see if you may need hepatitis A shots. You may be able to get a combined hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccine. This combined vaccine is given in 3 doses over 6 months.
  • Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus. You can get this infection by coming in contact with the blood or other body fluids of someone who is infected with the virus. Hepatitis B is often spread by having sex with or sharing needles with someone who has the infection. The vaccine is given as a 3-shot series over 6 months.
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella are infections caused by viruses that are passed from person to person. They are usually mild illnesses in children, but may cause serious problems for adults. The shot for these 3 diseases is recommended if you were born in 1957 or later. Measles and mumps were very common before 1957, so older adults have probably been exposed to these diseases and are already immune. If you have had 1 measles shot, you may need a second one. Ask your healthcare provider.

    If a woman is not immune to rubella (also called German measles) and gets infected with the rubella virus during pregnancy, the baby could also get infected. The infection could cause severe birth defects. Women who have not had rubella and did not get the MMR shot as a child should have the shot before they get pregnant. Women should avoid getting pregnant for at least 28 days after the shot.

  • Meningococcal vaccine protects against meningitis, which is an infection of the brain and spinal cord that is passed from person to person. This shot is recommended for people with weak immune systems or who live in dormitories, such as in college or the military.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The HPV vaccine is approved for females and males age 9 to 26 years old. The vaccine is most effective if it is given before a young man or woman has sex for the first time. It is given as a 3-shot series over 6 months.

Travel to some countries requires shots against typhoid and other diseases. The shots you need may be different depending on what countries you are visiting. Your healthcare provider or public health department can tell you what shots you need. Check on which shots you will need 2 or 3 months before your trip.

Where can I get the shots?

You can get the shots from your healthcare provider and at most local health departments.

You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-01
Last reviewed: 2014-04-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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