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Vaccines for Adults – What You Need to Know

By Taylor Smith 

The recent measles outbreak has sparked much discussion over vaccinations, particularly as they apply to children. What some people may not realize is that there are a variety of vaccines recommended for adults as well. Childhood vaccines wear off over time and factors like your age, job, lifestyle, and degree of travel can indicate an increased risk for certain preventable diseases. And the CDC states that older, hospitalized adults have immune systems similar to newborn babies, making them particularly vulnerable to infections. 

As far as vaccines, Shingrix is a two-dose inoculation that is 95 percent effective at preventing shingles, a viral infection that results in a painful rash. The second dose of Shingrix should be administered within two to six months of the first dose. Most physicians recommend Shingrix to patients over 50. 

Tetanus is a disease of the nervous system that can quickly become life-threatening. Household accidents such as cutting yourself on rusty metal or stepping on a nail can result in a serious infection. The CDC states that adults need a booster shot every 10 years to prevent against a tetanus infection. If you do suffer an accident and are unsure as to whether or not you are up-to-date on tetanus, a doctor may administer the booster on the spot. 

The HPV vaccine has been the subject of some controversy. The Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls in the early 2000s. The FDA has since updated the guidelines to adolescent boys and girls. Men up to the age of 26 may be vaccinated if it is deemed appropriate by a patient and doctor. The vaccine is a series of two shots, spaced six to 12 months apart. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, which can cause everything from warts on the hands and feet to cervical and anal cancer.

For adults who are concerned about the measles outbreak, rest assured that if you received the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) as a child, you are considered immune for life. Adults born before 1957 are considered naturally immune because they were most likely exposed to measles as young children. Those who were born after 1957 and never received the MMR vaccine can still get the vaccine as adults. 

All adults benefit from a seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine. Health care workers, teachers, pregnant women, and adults over age 65 are strongly urged to get this yearly shot. Also of note, many colleges and universities require incoming students to be vaccinated against meningitis, an infectious disease that is frequently reported on campuses and in communal dormitories. 

International travelers can take the CDC’s online Vaccine Self-Assessment Tool prior to speaking with their physician (https://www2.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched/). Appropriate vaccines should be administered 4-6 weeks prior to travel in order to build-up immunity. The CDC’s travel website delivers up-to-date information on health and contagious disease concerns all over the world. Travelers can search by country in order to better determine how to pack and where to go should they require medical care while abroad.