Vaccines for Adults

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Vaccines aren’t just for babies and young children. Adults also need to get vaccines.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines (sometimes called vaccinations or immunizations) are given to people to prevent disease. Vaccines are a mixture of cells and chemicals. Most vaccines are given by injections (shots), but a few can be taken by nose, as a nasal spray.

If I am a healthy person, do I need vaccines?

Vaccines can help you stay healthy and avoid certain diseases. For example, a yearly flu shot can help keep you from catching the flu or greatly decrease the effect of the flu if you do catch it. Even though you are healthy, your work, travel, or life in general may expose you to serious illnesses like hepatitis. Vaccines can help you avoid illness, great expense, or even death.

Are there risks to vaccines?

Vaccines are very safe. Generally, being sick with the disease is much more dangerous than getting the vaccine. Most vaccines used in the United States are made from a killed or inactive virus, so the vaccines cannot give you the disease. People with some health conditions – like pregnancy – should not get certain vaccines. Most vaccines cause soreness at the injection site and a few can cause a flu-like feeling, which lasts for a day or so. Ask your health care professional which vaccines are safe for you and how you should expect to feel after getting them.

How do I know if I need any vaccines?

The table in this handout has information on which vaccines you may need as an adult. If you work or travel outside the United States, you may also need other vaccines. Your local health department or the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) can provide information about what vaccines you will need for travel.

Can I get vaccines if I am pregnant?

The flu vaccine and the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine are recommended for all pregnant women. The hepatitis A and B vaccines are also recommended for women at risk for the infection. Some vaccines should not be given to pregnant women. These include the human papillomavirus (HPV), live flu, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines. Right after pregnancy is a good time to get the hepatitis, MMR, and varicella vaccines if you need them.

Table 1. Vaccine Schedule for Adults
Vaccine Who needs this vaccine? How often? Is it safe during pregnancy?
  1. aYou are at risk for Hepatitis A if you: 1) live in a community that has a high incidence of Hepatitis A, 2) use street drugs, or 3) have chronic liver disease.
  2. bYou are at risk for Hepatitis B if you: 1) have had more than one sex partner in 6 months, 2) have sex or household contact with a person who has Hepatitis B, 3) use street drugs, or 4) are a health care or public safety worker who could have contact with body fluids.
  3. cYou should get a flu vaccine with inactivated virus every year if you: 1) are over age 65, 2) are a health care worker, 3) are pregnant, or 4) have long-term health problems such a diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, or heart disease.
Hepatitis A People at risk for hepatitis AaPeople who travel out of the United States One series of 2 injections Yes, if at riska
Hepatitis B Everyone aged 18 years and younger One series of 3 injections Yes, if at riskb
If older than 18, people at risk for hepatitis Bb
Human papillomavirus (HPV) All women aged 26 and younger unless pregnant One series of 3 injections Unknown, not recommended
Influenza (flu) People wishing to avoid the flu Yearly shot if pregnant between October -February
inactivated People who could become very ill if they get fluc
Influenza (flu) live Healthy people aged 49 or younger who are not pregnant and have no medical problems Yearly nasal spray No
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) People born after 1957People who have no immunity when checked with a blood testEspecially important for women planning a pregnancy One time with possible need for boosters No
Meningococcal College freshmen who live in a dorm One time Unknown
Others at risk due to travel or chronic disease
Pneumococcal People aged 65 and older Usually one time Not applicable
People with certain medical problems
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) or tetanus Adults who have not had these vaccines in childhood or have not had a booster in 10 years An initial series plus regular boosters Yes, with every pregnancy
and diphtheria (Td) Adults with an injury and no booster in 5 years.
Adults who have not had a booster with pertussis.
Postpartum women with no recent vaccination
Health care workers
Adults who are around infants to age 12 months
Varicella (chickenpox) Anyone who has not had chickenpox or has tested non-immune One series of 2 injections No
Zoster (shingles) People aged 60 or older One time Not applicable

For More Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vaccines and immunizations

US Department of Health and Human Services

Immunization Action Coalition: Vaccine information you need

American College of Nurse-Midwives: Understanding the importance of vaccines

March of Dimes: Vaccinations during pregnancy

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