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Adult vaccines: Are you up-to-date on yours?

Body, Together inspired

Some things you never outgrow. High on that list is rolling up your sleeve for a shot. Even if you were fully vaccinated as a kid, you still need vaccines as an adult. Keep reading to learn which adult vaccines you need and when you should get them.

Vaccines save lives

There’s a common misconception that only the elderly or people who are chronically ill need to worry about getting vaccinated. But even if you’re a healthy adult, it’s important that you stay up-to-date with the recommended vaccines.

The reasons for doing so are black and white. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year hundreds of thousands of adults in the U.S. suffer serious health problems or are hospitalized, while tens of thousands even die from diseases that vaccines can prevent.

But it’s not just your life that you’re protecting by getting vaccinated. Keeping up with your immunization schedule as a healthy adult can stop you from spreading diseases that certain members of the population—like young children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses or weak immune systems—are especially susceptible to. That could easily be someone you love like a relative or dear friend.

5 vaccines most adults need

There’s no one-size-fits-all adult immunization schedule. Factors like your age, occupation, travel plans and medical conditions all have an effect on which vaccinations you need. So be sure to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.

Still, some vaccines are typically a must. Here’s a list of the five most common vaccines adults need:

  1. Flu vaccine. The flu has potentially serious complications—it can cause pneumonia and even kill. The CDC recommends getting a flu shot yearly, and ideally by the end of October, before flu season kicks into full gear. With rare exceptions, every person ages six months and up needs a flu shot. Flu season in the U.S. can begin as early as October and can last as late as May.
  2. Tetanus (Td) vaccine. You need a booster shot every 10 years to stay safe from tetanus, or "lockjaw," a medical emergency that can make swallowing impossible. This booster is a two-in-one shot that also protects against diphtheria.
  3. Tdap vaccine. This triple-play vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis). You need it at least once in your lifetime, so catch up if you missed it as a teen. You also need a dose anytime you’re pregnant, preferably at the beginning of your third trimester. Whooping cough is especially dangerous for babies who are too young to receive the vaccine. So getting your Tdap not only protects you, but infants too young to protect themselves.
  4. Shingles vaccine. The CDC recommends getting the shingles vaccine if you’re 50 or older. You’re at risk for shingles if you’ve ever had chickenpox. The virus that causes chickenpox goes dormant and can strike again when you’re older, resulting in a burning, painful rash and other potential complications. About 1 in 3 people will develop the painful shingles rash during their lifetime, but getting vaccinated can greatly improve your odds.
  5. Pneumococcal vaccine. There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccines—PCV13 AND PPSV23—and you need both if you’re 65 or older. You may need to be vaccinated earlier if you smoke or have certain medical conditions, or are more susceptible to disease. But doing so will be worth it. The bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease can result in potentially deadly pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections.

You may need more

You may need other vaccines too. Others, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV can help prevent serious diseases and certain types of cancer from developing. Talk with your primary care provider for guidance on which you should receive.

Need extra help figuring out which vaccines you need? Take this quick quiz from the CDC to find out.