Adult Immunizations: Are You Up-To-Date?

Although children receive the majority of the vaccinations, adults also need to stay up to date on a range of vaccinations, from the flu to tetanus to varicella. Here's why: Adults who have never received childhood vaccinations can experience serious complications from these diseases as an adult. And for adults who did receive all the recommended vaccines as children, immunity against some diseases can gradually fade away over the years, meaning that booster shots are needed. Vaccines contain dead or weakened germs that trigger the immune system to respond and build immunity. Ask your doctor which of the following shots you may need.

Pneumococcal infections ("Pneumonia vaccine") 

This vaccine protects against serious infections caused by a specific bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae; these infections are often referred to as pneumococcal disease. This bacterial infection can cause:

  • Pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs that frequently leads to death in elderly adults.

  • Septicemia. This is an overwhelming bacterial infection in the bloodstream. It can be fatal.

  • Meningitis. This is a bacterial infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. It is a serious illness that can be fatal. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 20 people who get pneumococcal pneumonia dies from it. Three in 10 people who get meningitis also die. Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but the people at greatest risk are those who are 65 and older, very young people, and people with special health problems. 

You should get the pneumonia vaccine if you are 65 or older. If you are younger than 65, you should get this shot if you have a chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart or lung diseases, sickle cell disease, alcoholism, or cirrhosis. Other people who should get this shot are people with a weakened immune system, such as those with kidney failure, a damaged spleen or no spleen, HIV/AIDS, or certain types of cancer. Alaskan Natives and certain American Indians are also at higher risk. The vaccine usually is given once. People who are 65 or older who received their first pneumonia shot before they were 65 and people with certain medical conditions need a second shot if it has been at least five years since the first dose. Others who will need a second immunization include people whose spleen has been removed and those with sickle-cell disease, HIV/AIDS, some cancers, kidney failure, or organ or bone marrow transplants.


This shot protects against the seasonal influenza or "flu" virus. The flu virus causes chills, headache, sore throat, dry cough, runny nose, and body aches. Most of the people who die from the flu are adults older than 65, the CDC says. The best time to get your annual shot is in October or November. Healthy adults younger than 50 who aren't pregnant can get the flu vaccine as a nasal spray, which contains live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu.

Who should receive it? Nearly everyone, unless there is a specific reason not to get it, such as an allergy to the ingredients in the shot. Healthy adults up to age 49 may receive either a nasal spray version (which contains weakened, live virus), or the shot. Adults 50 and above, including pregnant women, should receive the injected form of the vaccine. A newer, somewhat stronger version of the flu shot is also available for older adults who may not respond to flu shots as vigorously as younger people.

You should avoid getting a flu shot if you developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting a previous flu shot, or if you have a severe allergy to eggs. If you are currently ill, wait until your symptoms improve before getting a vaccination.

Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)

This shot protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Rubella is also called German measles.

You should get this shot if you are a woman of childbearing age and your immunity to MMR is low. This can be determined by a blood test. If your immunity is not up to par and you're considering pregnancy, you'll need a shot three months before conception. Women should avoid getting pregnant for at least four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women should wait to get this shot until after they have given birth.

Your Guide to Vaccinations

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