Immunizations Adults Need (And When They Need Them)
Vaccines for children get a lot of attention, so you may not realize you should continue to vaccinate against illnesses throughout your life.
“Regardless of age, we all need immunizations to protect against serious, and sometimes deadly, diseases,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. “Protection from vaccines you received as a child can wear off over time, and you may be at risk for new and different diseases.”
Here are the vaccines you need to stay healthy:
Also called influenza, you should vaccinate against this disease annually throughout your adult life. Because it affects millions of people, you may not consider the flu serious, but it kills tens of thousands every year according to the CDC. This vaccine is especially important for people in high-risk populations, including those 65 and older.
Additionally, you can come down with the flu any season, not just in winter, although it tends to be more common then.
“Cold and dry weather enables the virus to survive longer outside the body than in other conditions and, as a consequence, seasonal epidemics in temperate areas appear in winter,” the World Health Organization says.
The reason for a yearly shot is the virus constantly changes, and the vaccine is adjusted to protect against recent strains.
Tdap and Td vaccines
You likely received the childhood version of the Tdap vaccine, called DTaP. Both protect against tetanus (a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle tightening), diphtheria (a serious infection that causes a thick coating to form in the throat) and pertussis (a respiratory tract infection, also called whooping cough), all of which can kill you.
If you weren't immunized as a child, the adult version prevents these deadly diseases. After an initial shot, you should receive a booster shot, called a Td vaccine, every 10 years. Doing so will continue to protect you against tetanus and diphtheria.
Human papillomaviruses cause most cervical cancers, anal cancer and genital warts. While vaccination begins in childhood, adults should continue getting HPV vaccines into their 20s, with the following age recommendations:
- Women and transgender people, up to age 26
- Men who have sex with men, up to age 26
- All other men, up to age 21
- People with immunocompromising conditions (including HIV), up to age 26
The HPV vaccine is essential as a young adult because the cancers it prevents may show up decades later.
“There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems,” the CDC says. “ … HPV cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced, very serious and hard to treat.”
Pneumococcal disease causes ear and sinus infections, bacterial meningitis, pneumonia and bloodstream infections. It kills thousands of adults every year, according to the CDC, and that is why two vaccines are recommended for people ages 65 and up — the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, more commonly called PCV13 and PPSV23.
These vaccines are also recommended for adults 19 and older who smoke or have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lymphoma or HIV, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Because your risk of shingles — also called herpes zoster or even “adult chickenpox” — and post-herpetic neuralgia (a complication from shingles) increases as you age, you should vaccinate against the virus.
“After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body,” the CDC says. “For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.”
Available since 2006, the Zostavax vaccine reduces your risk of developing shingles by 51 percent with a single injection.
You may require other vaccines, depending on where you live, what vaccinations you may have missed out on as a child, and any medical conditions you have. The CDC offers a schedule of vaccinations you should get as an adult on its website. Paying attention to these recommendations can keep you safe from serious diseases throughout your life.
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