Health & Medicine

Immunizations are for grown-ups, too

People may think they're too old to be immunized, but they're swimming in a sea of trouble.
People may think they're too old to be immunized, but they're swimming in a sea of trouble. The Seattle Times

Immunizations aren’t just for kids.

In recent years, vaccinations for grown-ups have proliferated. Signs at pharmacies advertise shingles shots. Health officials urge everyone to get a yearly flu vaccine. And there’s always the every-10-years booster for tetanus.

“There are more immunizations available for adults than ever before,” said Patrick Joseph, a Bay Area physician and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “That adds a level of confusion.”

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes an annual list of recommended immunizations based on age, health and risk factors. Doctors and public health officials base their advice on the CDC list, which recommends:

▪ Everyone should get an annual flu shot, which prevents three or four common strains of flu.

▪ Anyone who comes in regular contact with an infant needs a booster shot for whooping cough. The shots that many adults received as children wear off and won’t prevent an adult with whooping cough from infecting an infant. The disease, also called pertussis, generally isn’t serious for a healthy adult but can be deadly for infants.

“If any grandparents or aunts and uncles have not had TDaP (a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine), they should get one when there’s a new baby in the family,” said Kate McAuley, a public health nurse and coordinator of Sacramento County’s immunization assistance program.

▪ Shingles shots are mainly for people over 60. They can stop the dormant chickenpox virus from reviving and causing painful skin rashes and other complications.

▪ Younger adults, generally ages 19-26, should make sure they’re current on shots for the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus.

Ronald Fong, a UC Davis family physician, suggests people go straight to the source to learn more. “I would pull up the CDC guidelines. That’s what we use,” he said.

The adult guidelines, and a quiz to determine what vaccines you might need, are at

Adult vaccines at a glance

The CDC recommends the following list of vaccinations for adults, depending on their health and age. Pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems should not get MMR, shingles or chickenpox vaccines.


What it prevents

Who should have it


Three or four known strains of the seasonal flu

Everyone, each fall


Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, which can kill infants

All adults, every 10 years; pregnant women in third trimester


Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles)

Adults born after 1956 who weren’t vaccinated as a child


Human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer

Those 26 or younger who weren’t vaccinated as children



A painful, adult form

of chickenpox

Anyone over 60, even if you’ve had shingles before


Pneumonia, and ear and sinus infections

People over 65 and those who have weakened immune systems


Varicella, a virus that causes an itchy rash

Adults who didn’t have the vaccination or disease as children


Bacterial meningitis

Mainly young adults entering college or the military

Hepatitis A

A liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus

Those who didn’t have vaccination in childhood

Hepatitis B

A liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus

At-risk individuals including medical professionals and IV drug users

Source: National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention