Keeping up with immunizations as an adult
May 12, 2021
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?
It is incredibly important — now more than ever as we continue to combat a global pandemic — to protect yourself and those around you from potentially life-threatening illnesses through vaccines.
It’s part of my role as a primary care physician to practice preventative medicine. With vaccines, we have an opportunity to prevent a disease from happening or significantly reduce its severity. I feel that it’s my duty to tell my patients about those opportunities.
The majority of vaccines are well-tolerated, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. Illnesses like the flu, pneumonia and shingles can be very serious, even for people who consider themselves healthy. When you decide to get a vaccine, you are not only protecting yourself from diseases, but you are stopping the spread of illness for others.
I recommend you speak to your primary care physician about your vaccine schedule to ensure you are up-to-date.
Here is a list of available vaccines to discuss with your doctor. All routine vaccinations should be given despite the COVID-19 pandemic:
Children can receive their first flu vaccine as young as 6 months old and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can continue to receive one annually throughout life. You are encouraged to get a flu shot every year, typically in the fall or winter. Since the flu virus changes each year, annual vaccinations are needed.
The flu can be very serious in patients who have poor immune systems or patients who are very young or old. However, influenza sometimes can be serious for healthy adults, too.
Health systems expect a rise in hospitalizations during the flu season each year. Most physician offices and clinics should have vaccines available in early September. I highly recommend you consider getting your flu vaccine early in the season. The earlier you protect the yourself through vaccination, the less chance you have of contracting the flu virus.
People generally get their first tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (TDap) vaccine at around 11 years old. Adults should receive a TD or 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.
Pregnant patients should get a TD or TDap booster in their third trimester of every pregnancy, preferably in gestational weeks 27–36. That’s because antibodies from the vaccine are passed on to protect the developing baby from whooping cough.
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 as chickenpox.
After shingles has resolved, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia can develop, the most common complication of shingles. This condition causes burning pain in the areas where the shingles rash was, even after the rash and blisters disappear. The pain can last for months or years after the rash goes away.
The Zoster vaccine can help prevent both shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.
While anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles, the risk increases past age 50.
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.
The CDC recommends receiving a series of vaccines to prevent human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Both men and women can get this immunization between ages 11-12 and 26, but it can be given as early as age 9. It can also be administered after age 26 until 45 in special cases, such as an incomplete vaccination history.
“At risk” adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should receive an immunization for pneumonia. Patients may be more susceptible to pneumonia if they smoke, have respiratory diseases such as COPD or asthma, suffer from renal failure, have immune suppression disorders, diabetes, alcoholism or HIV. Primary care physicians recommend all patients older than 65 receive a pneumonia vaccine.
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.
Patients traveling internationally may benefit from or require a meningococcal vaccine depending on their destination and their pre-existing medical conditions.
For each immunization, there are special cases in which people with certain conditions should or should not receive it. Some immunocompromised individuals or those with severe allergies may consider skipping certain vaccines. For information on each immunization and when to be vaccinated, consult CDC’s website.
Anything we can do to prevent disease or complications that can be life-changing or fatal is worth doing.
Ask Your Primary Care Doctor
Overall, it’s important to keep up with your vaccinations and ask your primary care provider any questions you may have. Anything we can do to prevent disease or complications that can be life-changing or fatal is worth doing. It’s important to make an appointment with your primary care physician to have a conversation to understand the benefits and risks of immunizations for you individually.
If you switch healthcare providers, make sure your immunization records are transferred. A vaccine card also could be helpful to track what shots you’ve already received and what is due next.
UChicago Medicine Medical Group comprises UCM Care Network Medical Group, Inc. and Primary Healthcare Associates, S.C. UChicago Medicine Medical Group physicians are not employees or agents of The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago or UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial.
Mohanad Joudeh, MD
Dr. Mohanad Joudeh is a primary care physician who is board certified in internal medicine. He is also a weight management specialist. Dr. Joudeh is trained to diagnose, manage and treat your basic healthcare needs. He practices at UChicago Medicine at Ingalls –Tinley Park. To request an in-person or virtual appointment now with Dr. Joudeh or another primary care physician at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial, click here or call 855-826-3878.Learn more about Dr. Joudeh