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)

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