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Understanding Vaccine Recommendations

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2022 | Last updated: December 2023

Every year, vaccines help save millions of lives. Vaccines work with our body’s natural defenses to create an immune response to a specific disease. They are our best protection against preventable diseases.1

Many vaccines are recommended to help keep children healthy and safe as they grow up. And many are also recommended for adults. After all, childhood vaccines can wear off over time. As people age, they also may be more at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. This increased risk could be due to their:1

  • Age
  • Job
  • Lifestyle
  • Travel
  • Chronic health issues

Vaccinations for adults

If you are 18 years old or older, continue reading to learn which vaccines may be recommended for you. If you live with other health conditions, your doctor can help you determine what vaccines are recommended for your particular situation and when to receive them.

COVID-19 vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months old get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of 2023, 3 COVID-19 vaccines are available in the United States:2

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Novavax

The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) have an “updated” version. It protects against the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Omicron variants.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 years and older should get 1 updated mRNA vaccine, even if they have received a prior COVID-19 vaccine. People who are 65 years and older or immunocompromised may receive an additional dose.2

Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years should get at least 1 dose of the updated mRNA vaccine. Additional doses may be needed and will depend on which vaccine they receive and how old they are.2

People who are 12 years and older who are unable or choose not to get an mRNA vaccine should get 2 doses of the Novavax vaccine. Talk to your doctor about which specific vaccine and booster doses are recommended for your situation.2

Why is this important? COVID-19 vaccines provide the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and even death from the SARS-Cov-2 virus.2

Influenza (flu) vaccine

The seasonal flu is a respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. The virus peaks during the fall and winter months in the United States. Experts recommend that all adults ages 19 and older get the vaccine once every year for protection.1,3

Why is this important? The flu vaccine lowers your risk of getting seriously ill and reduces the chance for flu-related complications. The flu vaccine is extra important if you:1,3

  • Have a chronic health condition like diabetes or chronic lung disease
  • Are pregnant
  • Are older than 65

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

HPV is a very common virus that can cause cancer in anyone. It is typically given once to preteens at age 11 or 12. One dose is enough to protect them fully.1,3

It is not recommended for adults over the age of 26, however. If you are not already vaccinated, speak with your doctor about your risk of infection and whether the vaccine is right for you.1,3

Why is this important? HPV protects against cervical, vaginal, anal, and other cancers.1,3

Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap)

The Tdap vaccine protects against 3 different illnesses:4

  • Tetanus – Enters the body through an open cut or wound. Tetanus can cause serious issues, including trouble swallowing and breathing.
  • Diphtheria – Passes from person to person. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, and, in severe cases, death.
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) – Causes uncontrollable coughing that makes it hard to breathe, eat, and drink.

The Tdap vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 7 and older. Adults are encouraged to get a booster shot every 10 years following their initial dose. People who are pregnant are also urged to get the Tdap vaccine to protect their baby from whooping cough.3

Why is this important? All three illnesses listed above can cause serious health issues. Babies are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough. Getting vaccinated can protect you and those around you who are most vulnerable.4

Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine

Most people are already immune to chickenpox. They either had it as a child or got the vaccine. But if you never had chickenpox, never received the vaccine, or do not remember, talk with your doctor. If you fall into one of those categories, they may advise you to get vaccinated. This vaccine is given in 2 doses, 28 days apart.3,5

Why is this important? While not as common as it used to be, chickenpox is a highly contagious virus that causes an itchy, red rash. If an adult catches the virus, it can cause serious complications like pneumonia.5

Shingles vaccine

Shingles is the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The CDC recommends that adults 50 and older get vaccinated with Shingrix, the FDA-approved shingles vaccine. Adults 19 and older with a compromised immune system should also consider getting vaccinated.6,7

Why is this important? Shingles can be painful and can cause serious complications in older adults and those with weakened immune systems.7

Pneumococcal vaccine

Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious infection that causes about 150,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. For adults who have never received a pneumococcal vaccine, it is recommended for people who are:8

  • 65 years and older
  • 19 to 64 years old with a pre-existing medical condition or other health issues

Why is this important? Older adults and those with other health issues are at an increased risk of getting pneumococcal pneumonia. Vaccines help protect you from serious illness and hospitalization.8

Hepatitis B vaccine

The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all adults ages 19 to 59. Adults who are 60 and older with risk factors for hepatitis B infection should speak with their doctor to decide whether they should be vaccinated.1,3

Why is this important? A hepatitis B infection can cause serious health complications, such as:1

  • Liver damage
  • Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
  • Liver cancer
  • In severe cases, death

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine

RSV is a virus that can cause cold-like symptoms ranging from mild to severe. RSV can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in infants. As of 2023, 2 RSV vaccines, Arexvy and Abrysvo, are available and recommended for people ages 60 and older. For pregnant people who are 32 to 36 weeks pregnant, Abrysvo is available to protect infants.9-11

Why is this important? RSV can cause severe infections like pneumonia (an infection of the lungs) or bronchiolitis (inflammation of the airways in the lungs). Older adults, infants, and people with serious medical problems are more at risk for serious infections from RSV. The RSV vaccine can protect you from serious illness and hospitalization.9

Side effects of vaccines

While they are safe, all vaccines have some side effects. Common side effects of vaccines include:12

  • Soreness in the arm where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle or joint pain

These side effects usually go away after a day or two. These are not all the possible side effects of vaccines. Ask your doctor about any concerns you may have.1

Stay up to date on vaccines

Staying up to date on vaccines is the safest way to protect your health. They keep you, your loved ones, and your communities safe. Adults with chronic health conditions may be advised to have more frequent vaccinations. Check with your doctor to learn which vaccines you may need, and make an appointment today.

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