Grown-Ups Need Shots, Too!

Posted on August 19th, 2015

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month! This week is dedicated to immunizations for adults, and though we usually focus on immunizations for children here at VaxMaineKids, we’d like to take a moment to remind you that “vaccines aren’t just for kids.” Older adults and adults with certain medical conditions or weakened immune systems are more at risk of illness, complications, and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. Healthy adults need vaccines too, to make sure they stay healthy. As we get older, immunity that we’ve acquired through previous vaccines may begin to wear off and we may need booster doses. Some vaccines are also recommended for travel or for specific jobs. And of course, when adults are vaccinated, the whole community benefits. To help us learn more about the vaccines that are recommended for adults, we are featuring a blog by Dr. Neil Korsen. You can also take this quiz (link to: http://www2.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched ) and talk with your healthcare provider to find out what immunizations you might need.

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This article also appeared on MaineHealth’s Learning Resource Center Blog which consistently shares reliable health information to the people of Maine in an effort to educate them about various health resources and services that are available throughout the state.

By Neil Korsen, MD
Medical Adviser, MaineHealth

Just because you are a grown-up, that doesn’t mean you are done having shots. August is Vaccination Awareness Month, a perfect time to be aware of what is recommended for you.

The following recommendations are for all adults. Some shots you only need to get once to catch up, and others are needed more than once, and should be a regular part of taking care of your health. There are special recommendations for people who have some health conditions – we will talk about those later.

Shots you need to get ONCE

Below are shots (or a short series of shots) you only need once in your lifetime:

  • Varicella (chicken pox). You should get two doses of this shot if you don’t have evidence of immunity. By “evidence of immunity,” I mean that you do not need this shot if any of these are true:
    • You had two doses of the shot before
    • You were born in the U.S. before 1980
    • You had chicken pox, diagnosed by a health care provider
    • You had herpes zoster (shingles) before, diagnosed by a health care provider
    • You had a blood test that proves that you have immunity to chicken pox
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus causes genital warts and may cause cancer. To be fully protected, anyone (male and female) between the ages of 19–26 should receive three doses if they have not already received the vaccine.
  • Herpes zoster (shingles). A single dose is recommended for all people aged 60 or older.
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). You need this shot if you were born in 1957 or later unless you were already vaccinated, or you have a blood test that shows you had all three diseases. Some people have a medical reason to not receive these vaccines; if you think this applies to you, talk with your health care provider about it.
  • Pneumococcal Vaccine (pneumonia shot). This one is complicated because there are two different types of pneumococcal vaccine: PCV13 and PPSV. All adults aged 65 and older should have one dose of PCV13 if they have not previously received the vaccine, followed by a dose of PPSV 6 to 12 months later. If you have had one of these vaccines but not the other, talk with your doctor about what is recommended for you.

Shots you need to get MORE THAN ONCE

  • Influenza (flu) vaccine. All adults should get one of these shots every year. The influenza vaccine is a trickster that changes every flu season, so the flu vaccine is really a new vaccine every year to keep up with the latest changes.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Adults should receive one dose of this shot every 10 years. Many times, this shot includes protection against tetanus and diphtheria only (Td). But whooping cough is becoming more common, so it is now recommended that adults receive a dose of the version that protects against whooping cough (Tdap) once in their adult lives. This will protect not only you but also your vulnerable babies and grandbabies from this potentially deadly disease.

Shots for adults with special health conditions

There are several vaccines that are recommended only if you have certain health conditions that make you more vulnerable to illnesses. Your health care provider can advise you whether any of these would be recommended for you.

  • Hepatitis A and B vaccines. These vaccines protect against a disease that causes liver damage, but not everyone is at equal risk. All children should get these shots, but adults need them only if they have the risk factors for hepatitis A . Talk to your doctor if you think you may need one or both of these.
  • Meningococcal vaccine. This is another vaccine that all kids/young adults should receive, but only some adults.
  • Haemophilus influenza vaccine. This protects against a disease that usually affects only those under age 5, but some adults may need the vaccine as well.
  • Pneumococcal Vaccine (pneumonia shot). While all adults ages 65 and over should receive both types of pneumonia shot (PCV13 and PPSV), there are other adults who should receive it as well, if they have diseases or conditions that make them vulnerable to pneumonia. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get this.
  • Doses of other vaccines. The recommendations for the number of doses of some of the other vaccines may also be different if you have or are at risk for certain health conditions.

Much of life and health is unpredictable, so when you have the opportunity to protect yourself against an illness, why not do it? Join your kids or grandkids in getting up to date on shots, and talk with your health care provider about the shots that can help protect your health.

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