A nurse places a bandage on a woman after giving her a vaccine.

The rhetoric around vaccinations often revolves around infants and children, which is why adults commonly believe they’re off the hook when it comes to vaccines. But that’s not true. Vaccines are an essential component of life-long health, from birth to old age. For, unfortunately, infectious diseases don’t discriminate against any age group, they can even impact the healthiest adult.

Even if you were fully vaccinated as a child, you still need boosters and annual shots. Here are some common questions and answers around adult vaccines.

Are vaccines even safe?

Chances are if you even passively roam the internet or social media, you’ve read the frightening headlines and posts:

“Vaccines cause autism!”

“Vaccines infect you with the disease they try to prevent!”

“I don’t need vaccines, infection rates are so low!”

The typical, required vaccines are all safe, and no bad effects are expected after any of those vaccinations” says HealthTap’s Dr. Robert KwokThe risk of getting sick, spreading one’s contagious disease to friends or family members and thus leading to serious illness or death, is much higher than the risk of getting a bad allergic reaction to a vaccine.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree, there is no evidence that vaccines can cause autism or other chronic illnesses. In fact, data shows that the current supply of vaccines in the US is the safest in history.

The reason the US has such low rates of infectious disease is because so many of us are vaccinated. This is known as “herd immunity.” As Dr. Jack Mutnick notes, if most of the population is vaccinated and thus resistant, infectious diseases don’t get a chance to infect and spread. That’s why getting vaccinated is so important. Vaccines only work if the majority of a population gets them. If people stop getting vaccines, infection rates can rise for easily preventable diseases, as is being seen in the outbreak of measles in New York.

Vaccines are a safe and essential part of keeping everyone healthy, so let’s explore how you can do your part as an adult.

What are boosters and why and when do I need them?

The effectiveness of vaccines fades over time, that’s why even if you received shots as a child you need boosters as an adult. Booster shots are additional doses of vaccines needed to “boost” and protect your immune system. Common boosters include MMR, tetanus, and meningitis.

It is usually safe to overlap vaccine doses, so if you’ve lost your childhood vaccination card no worries! If you have a chronic or autoimmune illness, however, it is crucial you talk your doctor. Timing of vaccinations and boosters is key for those who have weaker immune systems.

Are there certain vaccinations all adults should have?

Yes! Dr. Scott J. Wolfson particularly recommends that all people 6 months or older get the yearly flu shot.  

The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) agree. These are the groups that develop vaccination schedule recommendations. They recommend that all adults get the flu shot vaccine every year. Plus, the Td vaccine every 10 years, which protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

Are there vaccine recommendations based on age, gender, or lifestyle?

Glad you asked, yes there are! Certain groups are more at risk for different diseases. That’s why working with a doctor to receive personalized care based off of your individual health history and lifestyle is so important.

For instance, young women (under 26) and men (up to 22) should receive the HPV vaccine to protect against a virus that causes most cervical and anal cancers. Here are some other vaccine recommendations for at risk populations:

  • Gay and Bisexual Men: Flu, HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B
  • Healthcare workers: Up-to-date chickenpox, hepatitis B, MMR, meningococcal
  • Pregnant women: rubella, hepatitis B, whooping cough
  • Those born before 1957: MMR
  • Those over 50: zoster (shingles)

Other populations like travelers, those in the military, or those with chronic diseases need to speak with a doctor to receive vaccinations tailored specifically to them. While you can easily Google “vaccines needed traveling to Thailand” or “what vaccines do diabetics need” and find many answers, search engines don’t take into account your specific medical history.

Those with compromised immune systems, for example, need to work with their doctor to ensure the proper timing of dosages that works for their unique health history. Some adults with specific chronic health conditions should not receive certain vaccines or wait to get them.

Personalized care is important in all aspects of your health, but especially when it comes to vaccines. Always reach out to a trusted doctor to formulate a vaccination plan that works for you, your lifestyle, and your health.


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Hannah Dennison

Content Marketing Manager and Writer at HealthTap. Lover of all words, most books, and the Oxford comma.

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