The 5 Vaccines Adults Need

Protect your health and stay well by staying up-to-date on these important adult vaccines.

Medically reviewed in August 2021

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When it comes to vaccinations, many of us have a "for kids only" mentality. Once we finish school, most adults tend to forego important preventative immunizations, either because we don't think, or we don't know, that we need them.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that most adults in the U.S haven’t received the recommended vaccinations. This means that most adults are unnecessarily putting themselves at risk for infections such as the flu, pneumonia, shingles, HPV and even whooping cough.

Learn which vaccines you might need as an adult, when to get them and how they can help you stay well.

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Influenza vaccine

What it does: The seasonal influenza vaccine, available as a shot and nasal spray, is the best line of defense against the flu. It works by enabling your immune system to create antibodies that fight against that season’s flu virus.

When you need it: It’s recommended that everyone over 6 months be vaccinated against the flu. Because the strain of the virus changes from year to year, you’ll want to stay up-to-date on this vaccine annually throughout adulthood, especially if you're pregnant or over 65, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.

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HPV vaccine

What it does: Human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines protect against up to nine different types of HPV, the virus responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

If given before age 15, two different shots are needed, with the second coming 6 to 12 months after the first. If given at age 15 or later, it’s given as three different shots over the course of six months. The effectiveness— if administered before women and girls become sexually active—is extremely significant: it can prevent up to 70 percent of cervical cancers And the newest version of the vaccine, Gardasil 9, prevents up to 90 percent.

When you need it: Ideally, the HPV vaccine is given to boys and girls aged 11 or 12, but if you didn’t receive the vaccine, adults can get it up to age 26, or even later in some cases.

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Pneumococcal vaccine

What it does: The pneumococcal vaccine protects the body against the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that’s responsible for serious illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. It comes in two forms—PCV13 and PPSV23—and is given as an injection.

When you need it: Adults over 65 should receive the PPSV23 version of vaccine, and also PCV13 in some high-risk cases. It’s also strongly recommended for adults who live in nursing homes, who suffer from a compromised immune system or anyone aged 19 to 64 who smokes or has asthma.

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Td/Tdap vaccine

What it does: The Td vaccine protects both teens and adults from tetanus and diphtheria—serious conditions caused by bacteria. There’s also a Tdap version of this immunization that includes protection against pertussis, or whooping cough.

When you need it: The first Tdap vaccines are given to children around 11 or 12 years of age. Adults should receive one dose of the Tdap vaccine followed by a Td booster shot every ten years to ensure effectiveness, and pregnant women should receive one dose of the Tdap vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks, regardless of how long it’s been since her previous shot.

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Shingles vaccine

What is does: If you’ve had the chickenpox, you’re at risk for developing shingles—a painful skin infection caused by a reawakened chickenpox virus. The shingles, or zoster vaccine, helps to reduce your risk of developing shingles by 90 percent or more, and also reduces the risk of complications if you do get shingles.

When you need it: It’s recommended that everyone over the age of 50 get the new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, even if they’ve previously received the older vaccine or have previously had shingles. The vaccine is not recommended if you currently have an infection with a fever, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

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Other vaccines you may need

If you’ve never had the chickenpox, talk to your doctor about the varicella vaccine. And make sure you’ve had a complete round of the MMR vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Other vaccines to consider if you never received them as a child, or have certain risk factors, are vaccines that protect against meningococcal disease and the hepatitis B vaccines. You may need the hepatitis A vaccine, as well, If you have an increased risk for the disease or plan to travel to certain countries.  If you aren't sure about your immunization record, talk to your doctor.

Whether you’re 6 or 60, vaccines are an easy and effective way to keep you, and your community, healthy and protected.

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