Roll up your sleeve — you may need some shots! Like kids, adults should be fully protected against vaccine-preventable diseases. If there are gaps in your shot record, it’s time to get caught up.
Why Catch Up on Vaccines
When you think of vaccines, you might think they’re just for kids. After all, chances are that you had a slew of them when you were a child and haven’t had to have any regular ones since (other than the flu shot). But while childhood immunization is critical, adults need protection, too. And sometimes, people make it to 18 without having had the right combination of immunizations.
It’s important to get caught up because even diseases that have nearly been eradicated in the U.S. – like measles or polio – could come back if we’re not vigilant. Recent news about a positive polio case in New York is a troubling reminder of this inescapable fact.
Immunization keeps you healthy.
Vaccine-preventable illnesses can lead to a good deal of pain and discomfort. Some can even cause more serious consequences, like paralysis or death. Getting caught up on your shots could guard against those outcomes.
That’s especially important as you age. Your immune system’s effectiveness probably peaked around your teen years. The older you get, the more help your system may need in warding off threats.
Vaccination protects your loved ones and your community.
Whooping cough serves as a good example. Newborns don’t yet have vaccine protection from this dangerous disease and can’t get immunized for it. Their health depends on being surrounded by vaccinated adults. The CDC says that anyone who’s around a newborn should be up-to-date on whooping cough shots.
Keeping diseases out of a community requires nearly everyone to get on board with vaccination. A community is at risk of a polio outbreak when the vaccination rate dips below 80%. For measles protection, the community vaccination level must be at 95%.
Vaccines to Catch Up On
Which vaccines you need to catch up on will depend on your medical history and your risk factors. Here’s a few of the most common vaccines to check:
As a child, you should have gotten two doses of MMR, a vaccine that guards against measles, mumps and rubella. One shot usually provokes a good immune response. The second serves as a just-in-case buffer.
If you never got either MMR shot, you should do so as an adult. In this case, a single dose may suffice.
What if you received one childhood MMR shot but not the second? In general, the official MMR guidelines say that you’re already adequately protected. Nearly everyone who gets at least one MMR shot is protected for life against these diseases.
High-risk people, though, need two shots.
You don’t have to be immunocompromised to be considered high-risk, either. If you’re a college student or a healthcare worker, you qualify.
There’s an exception to the MMR guidelines for people born before 1957. That’s because those people probably acquired natural immunity during childhood.
Vaccines for human papillomavirus (HPV) are typically given during the pre-teen or early teen years. Many states don’t require students to get this shot, though, so your parents may have skipped it. Or, depending on your age, it might not have even been available when you were younger.
If you’re 26 or under, you should go ahead and get vaccinated for HPV. You’ll need three doses. These will be spread out over six months.
Some people between the ages of 27 and 45 should also get HPV shots. HPV is contracted through sexual contact, so your sexual activity will determine whether you’re a good candidate.
For example, 40-year-olds in monogamous relationships may not need it. But those who expect to have new sexual partners could benefit. You’ll need to discuss it with your doctor.
You should have received a dose of Tdap in early childhood. When it’s first administered to children (under 7 years old), it’s actually called DTaP. The booster formula is called Tdap. This vaccine protects against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis). If you didn’t get a dose as a child, you should do so now.
Even if you did get this shot as a kid, you’ll need a regular booster. It’s recommended to get a booster every 10 years. And if you get a nasty injury, you may need your booster sooner.
Plus, a dose of Tdap should be given during every pregnancy. Timed right, it can help guard against whooping cough in newborns.
You’re probably more familiar with this disease by another name: chickenpox. Depending on your age, you may have had chickenpox as a kid. But if you’ve never had the illness or the shot, it’s smart to get vaccinated for it now.
Varicella vaccination is given in two doses. If you didn’t get either when you were younger, you should get them both now. The shots will be given four to eight weeks apart.
If you received one chickenpox shot as a kid, all you’ll need now is the second dose.
Also known as HepB, the hepatitis B shot protects against a certain liver infection. The vaccination series usually begins with newborns, but you could have received it at any point in childhood.
If you’ve never been vaccinated against hepatitis B, you may want to think about doing so now. The CDC’s recommendations don’t insist that all adults need this vaccine. Rather, they advise it for those who “want to be protected against hepatitis B.”
Protection won’t hurt anyone, but not everyone is at equal risk of contracting this illness. Drug use, congregate living, international travel and certain sexual behaviors could put you in a higher-risk category.
You may need up to four shots to be fully protected.
Vaccines You Need Regularly
Influenza is one vaccine that you’ll never be permanently caught up on. Each year, you should get a fresh dose. Annual flu shots usually begin in September or October.
If you’re 65 or older, you may need a high-dose flu shot. It helps stimulate a more potent immune response.
It seems that COVID-19 immunization may also require regular boosters from now on. The CDC approved an updated booster in September 2022. It’s bivalent, which means it protects against both the original strain and the Omicron variant.
You must be fully vaccinated with the original series before you can receive the updated booster. The booster can be given two months after your last dose.
Vaccines for Older Adults
As you get older, new vaccine requirements will begin. You won’t need to play catch-up with those shots. You’ll just need to get them right on time.
Shingles is a prime example. This two-dose series usually begins at age 50.
Pneumococcal vaccination is another. It’s for people aged 65 and up. Even if you got pneumococcal shots as a youngster, you’ll still need this round of pneumonia protection.
Where to Go for Vaccination
To learn about your vaccination history:
- Talk to your parents.
- Check your doctor’s records.
- See if your state maintains an immunization database.
Your best resource for vaccination advice is your primary care physician. Your doctor can review your medical history and let you know what vaccines you need. Plus, you may be able to get the shots right there in the office. And if you’re not sure about your history and want to check for protection, you and your doctor could talk about getting a titer test to prove immunity. This may not be necessary for you, but if you’re someone with a high risk of infection or you work or live around people who are, it may be smart to make sure you’re protected.
Physician’s offices aren’t the only place you can get your shots. Public health departments and pharmacies usually administer them as well. The appointment availability at those locations may be a better fit for your schedule, too.
Don’t let finances keep you from getting your recommended shots, either. Under the Affordable Care Act, many vaccines are considered preventive care. As such, they may be available to you at no cost through your health insurance. If you don’t have qualifying insurance, free or low-cost shots may be offered at health departments or community clinics.