An important part of preventive medicine is being up-to-date on immunizations. Unfortunately, many adults believe that once you are past childhood and the teen years you no longer need ongoing vaccinations. In truth, the need for immunization is a lifelong health priority.
Immunizations are needed at different times throughout your life to protect against serious, and sometimes deadly, diseases. What many people aren’t aware of is that some immunizations you received as a child can wear off over time. In addition, there are some vaccinations – such as the one for shingles – that are only recommended for adults age 60 or over.
Shingles (also known as herpes zoster or zoster) is a severe and painful skin rash caused by the chicken pox virus. The risk for shingles increases as a person ages for anyone who has had chicken pox.
So, what vaccines do adults needs? It depends on everything from your age and lifestyle to high-risk medical conditions, travel plans, and which immunizations you’ve had in the past.
If you travel out of the country frequently, for example, different vaccinations may be needed depending on the country you are visiting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains an online list of the vaccinations needed for travel to a particular country. You should check with your doctor at least four to six weeks before travel since many travel vaccines require multiple shots and take time to become fully effective.
It is also important to note that just because you had a vaccination for a particular disease as a child it does not mean you have lifelong immunity. Many of the vaccinations you received as a child require a periodic booster shot for maximum protection. For example, a tetanus and diphtheria vaccination is recommended every 10 years once you reach adulthood.
Of course, the CDC recommends that everyone should get a flu shot every year. Each year’s vaccination is designed to protect against the three or four strains of influenza anticipated to be most commonly circulated in the upcoming flu season.
Other vaccinations you may need include those that protect against human papillomavirus (which can cause certain cancers), meningococcal disease, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella. For older adults and those who have series chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, a pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent serious disease such as pneumonia or meningitis.
So, how do you know which immunizations you should get as an adult? A good starting point is the CDC website (www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html) which provides easy-to-use tools that individuals can use to assess their needs. While this may be useful, it is always important to discuss your specific needs with your primary care doctor as part of your routine preventive health care activities.