Beyond Childhood: Vaccines Are Not Just for Kids!

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and serves as a reminder that we all need vaccines throughout our lives.

All adults should get vaccines to protect their health. Even healthy adults can become seriously ill, and can pass certain illnesses on to others. Unfortunately, far too few adults are receiving the recommended vaccines, leaving themselves and their loved ones vulnerable to serious diseases.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Only 20% of adults 19 years or older had received Tdap vaccination. – National Health Interview Survey 2014
  • Only 28% of adults 60 years or older had received shingles (herpes zoster) vaccination. – National Health Interview Survey 2014
  • Only 20% of adults 19 to 64 years at increased risk had received pneumococcal vaccination. – National Health Interview Survey 2014
  • Only about 44% of adults 18 years or older received a flu vaccine during the 2014-2015 flu season. – Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2014-2015

Why do adults need vaccines?

Vaccines are recommended throughout your life. Even if you were fully vaccinated as a child, you may be at risk for other diseases due to your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health condition. In addition, the protection from some vaccines can wear off over time. All adults need vaccinations to protect against serious diseases that could result in severe illness requiring medical treatment or even hospitalization, missed work, and not being able to care for your family.

Are vaccine-preventable diseases really a threat for adults?

Every year, thousands of adults in the U.S. suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, and even die from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. Many of these diseases are common in the U.S. For example, in 2014, there were about 27,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease and 3,200 deaths among adults ages 19 and older. In addition, about 1 million cases of shingles and millions of cases of influenza occur each year in the U.S.

Older adults and adults with chronic health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and diabetes are at higher risk of suffering complications from certain vaccine-preventable diseases like flu and pneumonia.

What vaccines do adults need? How often and when do they need them?

The vaccines a person needs are based on their age, medical conditions, occupation, vaccines they have received in the past, and other factors. Taking the CDC adult vaccine quiz is one way to find out which vaccines you might need.

Nearly all adults are recommended to get the flu vaccine every year. Flu vaccination is especially important for those who are at high risk of serious flu-related complications, including adults 65 years and older, pregnant women and people with certain chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease.

All adults should get a one-time dose of Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) if they did not receive this vaccine as a preteen or teen. Whooping cough has been on the rise in recent years, and can be very serious, even deadly for babies. All adults should receive a Td booster every 10 years to protect against tetanus and diphtheria. These two diseases are uncommon now because of vaccines, but they can be very serious.

Women are recommended to get a Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of every pregnancy to help protect themselves and their newborn babies against whooping cough. They should get Tdap during pregnancy even if they have had a prior Tdap shot.

Other vaccines you need as an adult are determined by factors such as age, lifestyle, job, health condition, and vaccines you’ve received in the past. Vaccines that may be recommended for you are vaccines that protect against shingles, pneumococcal disease, human papillomavirus (which can cause certain cancers), meningococcal disease, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

If you’re traveling abroad, you may need additional vaccines. Check the CDC travel website for more information on what you should do to prepare for travel based on where you are traveling.

Take CDC’s vaccine quiz ( and discuss the results with your healthcare professional to make sure you are up-to-date on the vaccines recommended for you.

Why are we hearing about these vaccines now?

Many of the vaccines recommended for adults have been around for years.

We’re hearing more about the MMR vaccine because of measles outbreaks in the United States in recent years. Every year, unvaccinated travelers get measles while abroad and bring the disease into the United States. They can spread the disease to other people who are not protected against measles, which sometimes leads to outbreaks. This can occur in communities with unvaccinated people, including unvaccinated adults. For those traveling internationally, CDC recommends that all U.S. residents older than 6 months receive MMR vaccine, if needed, prior to departure.

One reason we’re hearing more about Tdap is the recent increase in whooping cough over the past few years. More than 18,000 cases were reported in the United States in 2015. We have learned that protection from the whooping cough vaccine given to children doesn’t last into adulthood.

I’ve heard more about shingles in the past few years. Since I had chickenpox, is the virus still in my body?

Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox still has the virus in their body. It stays in the body in an inactive (dormant) state, but can become active again later in life and cause shingles. One out of every three people will get shingles in their lifetime. You have a greater chance of getting shingles when you’re older, which is why the vaccine is recommended for everyone 60 years and older.

What’s the bottom line? What should people know about adult vaccinations?

There are many things adults do to stay healthy. We know we need to eat the right foods and exercise. We need to get our recommended cancer screenings. Another important thing we need to do is get our recommended vaccines.

Adults who aren’t up-to-date on their vaccines are at greater risk of getting and spreading certain vaccine-preventable diseases. It is especially important for older adults and those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes to get vaccinated because they are at increased risk for complications from diseases. The MDPH Immunization Program encourages all adults to talk to their healthcare professional about which vaccines are right for them – and get vaccinated.

This article is written by Rebecca Vanucci, Immunization Outreach Coordinator, MDPH Immunization Program

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