Vaccines for adults: Which do you need?

Vaccines offer protection from infectious diseases. Find out how to stay on top of the vaccines recommended for adults.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You're not a kid anymore, so you don't have to worry about shots, right? Wrong. Here's how to stay on top of your vaccines.

What factors might affect my vaccine recommendations?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccines for adults based on your age, prior vaccinations, health, lifestyle, occupation, travel destinations and sexual activity.

How can I check my vaccination status?

To gather information about your vaccination status, talk to your parents or other caregivers. Check with your doctor's office, as well as any previous doctors' offices, schools and employers. Or contact your state health department to see if it has a registry that includes adult immunizations.

If you can't find your records, your doctor might be able to do blood tests to see if you are immune to certain diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. You might need to get some vaccines again.

What vaccines do adults need?

Talk to your doctor about your specific needs. Adult vaccines to consider include:

  • Flu (influenza) vaccine. To prevent the flu, the CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone ages 6 months or older. Adults age 50 and older should not get the nasal spray flu vaccine. The flu can cause serious complications in older adults.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine. The CDC recommends the pneumococcal vaccines — there are two — for adults age 65 and older. Younger adults at increased risk for pneumococcal disease also might need a dose of the vaccine. Pneumococcal disease causes infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections.
  • Tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. One dose of Tdap is routinely given at age 11 or 12. If you've never had a Tdap vaccine, the CDC recommends getting the Tdap vaccine as soon as possible. One dose of Tdap vaccine is also recommended during each pregnancy, ideally between week 27 and 36 of pregnancy. Tdap can protect you from tetanus (lockjaw), whooping cough (pertussis) and diphtheria, which can lead to breathing problems. A Td booster is recommended every 10 years.
  • Shingles. To prevent shingles, the CDC recommends the vaccine Shingrix for healthy adults age 50 and older. It's given in two doses. Alternatively, the live shingles vaccine, Zostavax, can be given as a single injection to healthy adults age 60 and older. While not life-threatening, shingles can be very painful.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for girls and boys ages 11 or 12. Teens and young adults who begin the vaccine series later, at ages 15 through 26, should continue to receive three doses of the vaccine. The FDA also has approved the HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 for males and females ages 9 to 45. HPV is a common virus that can lead to cancer.

To stay on top of your vaccines, ask your doctor for an immunization record form. Bring the form with you to all of your doctor visits and ask your provider to sign and date the form for each vaccine you receive.

Mayo Clinic Minute: Why vaccines are especially important for older people

Aging is inevitable, and parts of the process can be unpleasant.

"As you get older, your immune system gets weaker. That's why we see more severe infections in older people."

Dr. Gregory Poland, who heads up the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group, says it's why vaccines become especially important as you get older. And it's why his team at Mayo Clinic looks for ways to tailor vaccines to better protect older people.

"There are three influenza vaccines, one shingles vaccine, and one hepatitis B vaccine that have been designed around those issues and that work better than the standard vaccines in older people."

He says it's important to note that these vaccines aren't perfect and won't always prevent you from getting an illness, but they do protect you from complications from illnesses like the flu.

"So you might have had sniffles or fever. You were home for a day or two from work, but you didn't get hospitalized. You didn't get pneumonia. And you didn't die."

For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Ian Roth.

Aug. 15, 2019 See more In-depth