Adult Vaccinations — Are You Protected?

If you think vaccinations end when you’re a baby, think again. Adults age 19 and older should receive boosters of several vaccines on a routine basis, and other vaccinations may be required if you plan to travel to a different country. So the need for immunization shots never really stops. Here’s a guide to what shots you may need — and when.


Another word for vaccination is ‘immunization.’ That’s because receiving a vaccine stimulates your immune system to create antibodies to specific diseases. A vaccine is a liquid solution containing a small dose of a virus or bacteria. Usually, the vaccine contains just a fragment of a virus or bacteria because if you received the whole, live virus you could get sick.

When the fragment of virus or bacteria is injected into your muscle, your body’s immune system mounts a response to inactivate (fight off) the intruder. Once your body generates antibodies to a specific disease, those antibodies may stay around for life. Most of the time, though, you need to receive periodic booster shots to stimulate the ongoing production of antibodies.

Vaccines usually are given in multiple doses called a series. Injections are not the only way to receive vaccines. Polio vaccines can be administered through drops placed under the tongue, and the flu vaccine can be received through a nasal mist. However, injection is the primary way you’ll get vaccinated.


Most adult require booster shots periodically. And some adults need an entire slate of vaccinations. Here’s a list of who should receive adult vaccines:

  • Adults who were not vaccinated as children or who don’t know if they were vaccinated as children.
  • Adults who did not receive vaccines that have been developed since they were children.
  • Adults who plan to work in the health care industry.
  • Adults who plan to travel to a foreign country.
  • Adults with weakened immune systems, due to illness or disease.
  • Adults with risks related to their job or lifestyle.
  • Older adults who need age-related vaccinations.


Even if you were vaccinated as a child, you should get periodic booster shots for some diseases. Other vaccinations are optional or dependent on your age. Check this schedule to see if all your immunizations are on track:

  • Tetanus/diptheria/pertussis (Tdap) followed by a tetanus/diptheria (Td) booster. Most people simply call this “a tetanus shot,” but the vaccine also contains protection against diptheria (a potentially deadly upper respiratory infection) and pertussis (commonly called “whooping cough”). You should receive a Tdap shot as an adult if you never had one as a child. After that, you should get a Td booster every 10 years. Pregnant women should get Tdap in the third trimester of every pregnancy to help stimulate their baby’s immune response.
  • Influenza (flu). Get a flu shot every year.
  • Varicella (chickenpox). Get this vaccination if it wasn’t available when you were a child AND you never had chickenpox. The series includes two doses, which you only need to receive one time in your life.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV). Women under age 26 may choose to get vaccinated against the primary cause of cervical cancer: HPV. The series includes three doses, and you only need to get vaccinated once in your lifetime. Men under age 26 also can get the HPV vaccine, though it’s recommended only for gay men or men who have sex with other men.
  • Measles/mumps/rubella (MMR). Adults may get this vaccine if they didn’t receive it as a child. You may need a series of two doses. Otherwise, this vaccine does not require boosting.
  • Pneumococcal (pneumonia). There are two types of pneumonia vaccine, and one can be given to anyone over age 21. Talk to your health care provider to find out which type of pneumonia vaccine is appropriate for you. Adults over age 65 should get one pneumonia vaccination, which is good for life.
  • Zoster (shingles). Adults over age 60 should consider getting vaccinated against shingles. You can receive the vaccine even if you’ve had shingles before. This is a single-dose vaccination.
  • Meningococcal (meningitis). Consult your health care provider to see if your lifestyle or job risks make you a candidate for this vaccine. College students, for example, may be more susceptible to contracting meningitis than the general population is.
  • Hepatitis A. Adults who did not receive this vaccination series as a child may get it at any time.
  • Hepatitis B. Adults who plan to work in the health care industry or who may frequently be exposed to bodily fluids in their line of work should consider getting a Hep-B booster. If you did not receive the Hep-B series as a baby, you can get the three-dose series anytime.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Not to be confused with the seasonal flu shot, this immunization protects against a deadly strain of bacterial influenza. If you weren’t vaccinated for Hib as a child, you can receive a vaccination series of one to three Hib doses.
  • Typhoid, malaria, yellow fever and others. If you plan to travel abroad, see a travel medicine practitioner to learn which immunizations you need to protect you. These vaccinations are not routinely given to adults in the U.S.


Vaccination provides a cost-effective way to avoid getting serious diseases and illnesses. By taking time to discuss your immunization status with your health care provider, you can live healthy as an adult.