Keeping up with immunizations as an adult

Senior woman receiving vaccination

Most people receive immunizations as a child and adolescent, forgetting about their shots once into adulthood. But what boosters do adults need to stay healthy? Family practitioner Gloria Okereke, DO, primary care physician for the University of Chicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial, said you should check with your doctor to stay up-to-date on your immunizations.

“It’s part of our role as primary care physicians to make sure there’s no gaps in your care,” Okereke said. “We’re trying to protect the general population from contracting potentially life-threatening illnesses, especially if it’s an illness we can prevent.”

Here is a list of boosters and vaccines to receive as an adult:

Flu (Influenza)

Children can receive their first flu vaccine at as young as 6 months old, and according to the CDC, you can continue to receive one annually throughout life. Adults are encouraged to get a flu shot every year – typically in the fall or in the winter. Since the flu virus changes each year, annual vaccinations are needed.

“It can be very serious in patients who have poor immune systems, or patients who are very young or old,” Okereke said, although influenza can be serious for healthy adults, too.

Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis

People generally get their first tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (TDap) vaccine at around 11 years old. Adults should receive a TDap booster once every 10 years, especially those who may be at risk of puncture wounds, such as those that occur if you step on a nail.

Okereke said pregnant patients should get a TDap booster during in their third trimester of every pregnancy, preferably in the early part of gestational weeks 27–36. That’s because antibodies from the vaccine are passed on to protect the developing baby from whooping cough.

Zoster (Shingles)

The CDC recommends adults age 50 and older receive the zoster vaccine to prevent shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. While those who’ve had chickenpox can still develop shingles, adults over age 60 are at the highest risk.

Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)

Children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine once at 12-15 months and again between 4 and 6 years. Some children may get a similar vaccine (MMRV) that also prevents varicella (chickenpox). Adults can receive the MMR or MMRV vaccine if they did not get it as a child.

HPV

The CDC recommends receiving a series of vaccines to prevent human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. Both men and women through age 45 can get this immunization. Okereke said the HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for adolescents ages 11-12, but can be administered at 9 years old. If the HPV vaccine is given between 9 and 14 years old, two doses are required. If older than 15, three does are required to be fully vaccinated.

Pneumonia

“At risk” adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should receive an immunization for pneumonia. You may be more susceptible to pneumonia if you: smoke, have respiratory diseases such as COPD or asthma, suffer from renal failure, have immune suppression disorders, alcoholism or HIV. Doctors also recommend all patients older than 65 receive two pneumonia boosters.

International Travel Vaccines

Other adults with risk factors including certain medical conditions or lifestyles should also consult their doctors about receiving vaccinations to prevent several types of meningococcal meningitis and Hepatitis A.

For each immunization, there are special cases in which people with certain conditions should or should not receive it. For information on each immunization and when to be vaccinated, please consult CDC’s website.

Okereke said if you switch health care providers, make sure your immunization records are transferred. A vaccine card could also be helpful for your doctor to track what shots you’ve already received and what is due next.

“Anything we can do to prevent disease or complications that can be life-changing or fatal is worth doing,” Okereke said. “It’s important to ask your physician whatever questions you have about a vaccine to understand what the benefits are to prevent serious illness."

Gloria Okereke

Gloria Okereke, DO

Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, Dr. Okereke, has the knowledge and skill set to meet the diverse needs of your entire family. From newborns to seniors, she is committed to providing comprehensive medical care that is tailored to meet each patient’s specific needs.

Learn more about Dr. Okereke