If you think routine immunizations are only meant for children, you’re mistaken: Vaccines are just as important for adults. “The reality is, 50,000 to 70,000 adults in the United States die each year of diseases that are preventable by vaccine,” says Gregory Poland, M.D., a professor of medicine and infectious diseases and director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. A host of vaccines are now available for adults. Follow the latest guidelines and you can help protect your health.
Vaccine: Hepatitis B
What it is: A vaccine given in three doses over a period of months. It protects against liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. People get this virus from sex with an infected person or exposure to an infected person’s blood.
Who should get it: Anyone who has another sexually transmitted disease and/or is not in a monogamous relationship. “If you tend to have more than one sexual partner in a six-month period, you should get this vaccine,” Dr. Poland says.
What it is: An annual vaccine that helps protect against strains of influenza expected to be circulating that year. The vaccine is available as an injection for all ages and as a nasal spray for those under 50.
Who should get it: All adults age 50 and older, pregnant women and adults with a chronic health condition such as heart disease. “Flu kills tens of thousands of people each year and can lead to serious complications like pneumonia or heart problems,” says Janet O’Mahony, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Vaccine: Herpes Zoster
What it is: A one-time vaccine that protects against shingles, a painful illness characterized by a rash with blister-like lesions and, often, nerve pain that lingers long after an outbreak. The virus is the same as that for chickenpox—both illnesses are members of the herpes family. But shingles usually occurs after age 40.
Who should get it: Adults over 60, because a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox is more common in this age group. “Even people who have had shingles should get the vaccine as long as it’s been a year since they had an episode,” notes Dr. Poland.
What it is: A one-time shot that protects against the strains of bacteria that are the leading causes of pneumonia.
Who should get it: Adults 65 and older, along with all adults who have a chronic health condition, are immunocompromised or are missing their spleen. “Some of us think if you’re 50 or older, particularly if you smoke, you should have it,” Dr. Poland says. “If you got your first shot before you were 65 and it’s been more than five years since the shot and you have a chronic illness, get a booster shot.”
What it is: A three-in-one vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. “We’ve had epidemics of pertussis, the 100-day cough, among adults in recent years,” Dr. Poland notes.
Who should get it: All adults, even if they were immunized against these diseases as a kid. Bear in mind that your Tdap shot substitutes for one of your Td (tetanus/diphtheria) boosters, which you need every 10 years. And be sure to have the newer Tdap version, not the older DTaP or DTP shots, which also protect against these diseases.
Some people think that it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it’s letting go.