Adult vaccinations: Are you up to date?


COMMENTARY by Belinda Watts, MD, IU Health Physicians Internal Medicine – Zionsville

Vaccinations are most often associated with young children; however, adults also need vaccines to stay healthy. Vaccines cause the body to produce antibodies to fight infection and prevent disease. Depending on the disease, vaccines can provide lifelong immunity or maintain their effectiveness with “boosters” received over time.

Today’s vaccines are very safe, and side effects are generally minor. Vaccines are administered by injection in the muscle or fatty tissue, usually in the upper arm of adults. Some people may experience redness, swelling or pain at the injection site and sometimes mild fever. Serious complications from vaccinations are rare. However, there are people with certain risk factors who should not be vaccinated. For example, if you are allergic to eggs or have a weakened immune system, consult your doctor before receiving vaccinations.

The following vaccines are commonly recommended for adults:

  • Flu vaccine – Prevents influenza; the seasonal flu virus changes from year to year, so annual vaccination is recommended for most adults, including pregnant women.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine – Prevents 80 to 90 percent of pneumococcal disease (pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis); recommended once for adults over age 65 and for younger adults with chronic diseases, such as lung and heart disorders, asthma and diabetes.
  • Td vaccine – Prevents diphtheria and tetanus; adults should receive a booster every 10 years.
  • Tdap vaccine – Prevents diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough); pertussis can be fatal in infants younger than three months; adults should receive the vaccine once after age 19, especially if they are around newborns; pregnant women should be vaccinated between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy.
  • Herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine – Helps prevent re-activation of the chicken pox virus, which causes shingles in adults; adults should receive the vaccine once after the age of 50 to 60.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine – Prevents HPV infection, which causes genital warts, cervical cancer in women and other types of cancer in men and women; recommended for young adults up to age 26; full immunity requires three doses.

It’s best to talk with your primary care doctor at least annually about any vaccinations you may need.

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