You’ll often see reminders to vaccinate your children, but it’s not often that you get reminders to vaccinate yourself. PSA: Your doses aren’t done once you earn your high school diploma.
There are a number of vaccines that are only needed in adulthood, are needed annually, or require occasional “boosters” to renew your immunity. As an adult, you may be the only one keeping track of your immunization schedule, so it’s important to know what shots you may need—and when.
1. Get the flu shot annually.
The influenza vaccine (including the nasal spray flu vaccine) is a little different every year. There are several strains of influenza, and the prominent strain changes every flu season. To manage this, experts predict which strains will mostly likely spread that year and create a vaccine to protect against it.
Although the flu itself might not seem like a big deal, the flu can cause flu-related complications, such as pneumonia. Young infants and older adults are particularly vulnerable to these potentially deadly complications.
2. Get the Td booster every 10 years.
You should have gotten one dose of the Tdap vaccine when you were younger: That creates immunization against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. (Learn more about the vaccine schedule for babies here.)
Unlike many other vaccines, which are good for a lifetime, tetanus and diphtheria need a “renewal” every 10 years, hence the Td booster.
3. Get the HPV vaccine before age 45.
The HPV vaccine is a relatively new addition to the vaccine schedule. It’s eligible for adults up to age 45, so if you haven’t passed that milestone and you haven’t yet had the HPV vaccine, it’s not too late. Even if you’ve had an HPV infection before, the HPV vaccine can effectively prevent infection by other HPV strains.
This vaccine protects against one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the country: the human papillomavirus. This is important because HPV infection is linked to the development of several types of cancer, including cervical cancer and oral pharynx cancer. Improving the rates of HPV vaccination could prevent a significant number of cancers.
4. At age 50, get the zoster vaccine.
The zoster vaccine protects against the herpes zoster virus, which causes shingles. It is still recommended and considered effective for people who have had a previous episode of shingles.
5. At age 65, get the pneumococcal vaccines.
There are two of these: pneumococcal conjugate and pneumococcal polysaccharide. These two vaccines prevent against strains of pneumococcal bacteria, which are known to cause diseases like pneumonia, meningitis, and more. These infections can be extremely dangerous and even fatal for older adults, so vaccination against this bacteria can save lives.
Depending on your individual risk factors, your doctor may recommend the pneumococcal vaccines much earlier. For example, children or adults with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or HIV infection may benefit from getting their pneumococcal vaccines early.
Other Vaccines Your Doctor May Recommend
There are a number of vaccines you can get in adulthood that aren’t required, but may be recommended for people with certain risk factors. For example, you might choose to receive vaccines against hepatitis A and/or B, or Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b).
Infections can be dangerous, but the good news is that they’re often preventable—if you stay up-to-date on your necessary vaccinations.