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Health Tip: Adult Immunization

You might remember standing in line for the polio vaccine in school, or getting “booster shots” at the doctor’s office as a kid, but have you been immunized lately? As we go though life, we build up natural immunities to many diseases, but we never outgrow our need to keep immunizations up-to-date.

Immunizations not only protect us from getting disease, they help to prevent the spread of disease. The types of shots you need depend on your age, lifestyle and overall health. You should also take into account any childhood diseases you had, the ages of the people you are around frequently and any travel plans out of the country. Your doctor will decide which shots you need and the schedule for your immunizations, but you need to inform him or her if you are planning travel to certain countries, or if you have been in contact with someone with a communicable disease, such as meningitis.

The most common adult immunizations include:

Seasonal Flu

Every year, you need to get a flu shot. Influenza can be a serious, even life-threatening disease. Every adult should get a flu shot , but it’s especially important for those who:

  • Have a chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes.
  • Work or volunteer in a health care office or facility.
  • Have a weak immune system.
  • Live with or are around others who are at risk of flu-related complications.

Flu shots are generally given in the fall to coincide with the influenza season and are made with a dead form of the virus, so “catching” the flu from your flu shot is not a concern. If you are allergic to eggs, you should not receive the flu shot.

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (whooping cough)

Everyone should get a Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td) shot every 10 years. The Pertussis vaccine is generally added (Tdap) if you’re under 65, or if you have close contact with a baby younger than one year old, regardless of your age.


The Pneumococcal Polysaccharide (PPSV or Pneumovax 23) shot should be given to everyone over age 65. It protects you from the most serious complications of pneumonia, such as an infection in the blood or throughout the organs of the body. You should also get this vaccine if you are under 65 and have chronic illness, a weak immune system, had your spleen removed, live in long-term care or are a smoker.


The Zostavax shot protects against developing shingles, a painful viral condition. Anyone over 60 can take the shot, even if you’ve had shingles before. This does not replace the chickenpox vaccine, which only vaccinates against chickenpox.

Additional Immunizations to Consider

Other immunizations you may consider are important if you plan foreign travel, if you have not had one or more childhood illness, such as chickenpox or measles, or if your work or volunteer time puts you at risk of exposure to communicable diseases. These include:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Chickenpox
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella
  • Meningitis


Your doctor is always the best source of advice on the types of immunizations you need and when you need them. A blood test can determine the amount of immunity you have to certain diseases, so you won’t receive unnecessary injections. Keep in mind that getting a shot is usually much less expensive and painful than suffering through a disease, and that should make it hurt a lot less.

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