5 Vaccines Adults Need
Vaccines save lives, and not just young ones—adults need certain immunizations as well. Here’s what docs have recently learned and what you’ll want to roll up your sleeve for.
YOU’VE PROBABLY considered—and even gotten—the flu vaccine, but beyond that, it might have seemed like the days of shots were behind you. However, thanks to new ones on the market and a better understanding of immunity, your doctor may ask you to bare your arms again. The CDC recommends certain vaccines for adults, but whether a specific one is right for you is determined by many factors, including your age, medical history, and even occupation.
We’ve taken a look at some of the vaccines most commonly recommended for adults (starting with the flu vaccine) and asked doctors to explain how well they work, who needs them, and anything else you should be aware of. All generally have minimal and temporary side effects such as headache, fatigue, joint pain, and tenderness in the area where they’re administered. In no case, doctors agreed, did a vaccine have side effects worse than the problem it would prevent.
The flu is spread through airborne droplets released by coughing, sneezing, talking, or, as was recently discovered, merely breathing. These can be inhaled into the lungs, causing fever, cough, body aches, and even hospitalization and death for the elderly or immune-compromised.
HOW WELL THE VACCINE WORKS: Its effectiveness varies from year to year and lessens as the months pass, which is why you need it annually. Each spring, epidemiologists decide which they believe will be the three or four most virulent strains for the upcoming flu season, and a vaccine is created to protect against them. While the shot may not wind up covering all strains, getting it is still a good idea: Even if you come down with the flu, it will be less severe and shorter than if you had not been vaccinated.
WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone over 6 months old, especially those at high risk for flu-related complications such as pregnant women and people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, says Bill Schaffner, M.D., of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: If you’re one of those people who don’t get the
shot because they “don’t get the flu,” keep in mind that you could be putting others at risk. “Only half of infected people will experience symptoms, so you can be totally unaware that you have the flu but still transmit it to others,” says Kumar Dharmarajan, M.D., chief scientific officer at Clover Health.
Also known as lockjaw, tetanus is spread by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, found in dust, manure, and soil. It enters the body through cuts from contaminated objects, such as nails, and symptoms include jaw cramps, muscle spasms, and seizures. While only 30 cases are reported in the U.S. per year, if you have one of them, you will be hospitalized.
HOW WELL THE VACCINE WORKS: Extremely well, though it’s not considered 100% effective.
WHO NEEDS IT: Everyone, every 10 years—widespread, consistent use of the vaccine is the reason the disease has been nearly eradicated in the U.S.
WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: Tetanus is a serious illness, so if you think you could be at risk—e.g., you stepped on a rusty nail and it’s been years since your last inoculation—go for a booster immediately, says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
GOING VIRAL: From left, influenza (flu), Clostridium tetani (tetanus), varicella zoster (chicken pox and shingles)