Vaccinations are an essential part of health care and can help you avoid diseases throughout your lifetime.
For more than two centuries, vaccines have greatly reduced diseases that were once common and often deadly among children and adults. In the 2020s, immunizations remain a cornerstone in preventive health medicine.
Unfortunately, some adults are not aware of the vaccines recommended for them. In fact, according to the Immunization Action Coalition, only about 1 in 5 adults is fully up to date on immunizations, leaving many vulnerable to get sick with vaccine-preventable diseases.
Immunizations for different ages and stages
Vaccines are not just for kids. Adults are often in need of vaccines based on age, health condition, lifestyle and travel habits.
- Age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide age-specific information in regard to vaccines ranging from infants to those 60-and-over. In addition, a vaccine you received as a child might need a boost. Adults should receive a tetanus shot, for instance, once every 10 years.
- Health conditions. If you have heart disease, a long-term disease or diabetes, it’s crucial to get the right vaccines. In the absence of immunizations, some health conditions can make it more difficult to ward off vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumococcal disease or the flu. There also may be vaccinations to avoid, depending on the vaccine and the health condition. A conversation with your provider can help you sort through recommendations.
- Pregnancy. The CDC recommends that women get certain vaccinesduring pregnancy: The inactivated flu vaccine (the injection, not the live nasal flu vaccine), the RSV vaccine and the Tdap vaccine. The RSV vaccine is given if you are 32 to 36 weeks pregnant at any time from September to January. The Tdap vaccine, administered between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, lowers the risk of whooping cough in babies younger than two months old by 78%. The CDC also recommends staying up to date on the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Lifestyle. Your lifestyle choices may affect which vaccines you need as an adult. Things like smoking, for instance, can heighten the importance of receiving pneumococcal and COVID-19 vaccines.
- Travel. Are you going overseas? The CDC recommends you plan ahead. Make sure you’re up to date on all your regular vaccines and be aware of the possible need for additional vaccines. The CDC’s destination pages provide specific travel health information.
Most insurance plans, including Medicare, realize the importance of immunizations and cover vaccines without cost to the patient. In the last year, Medicare has expanded its coverage beyond flu, COVID-19 and pneumonia immunizations to include Tdap and shingles vaccines. Under Medicare Part D, some of these vaccines need to be given at retail pharmacy locations.
With annual flu and regular COVID-19 vaccinations now a part of most peoples’ lives, it is wise to get comfortable with immunizations playing an increasingly prominent role in sustaining good health. There are more vaccines these days – and more reasons to receive them.
An example would be pneumonia vaccines, which continue to improve and cover more strains of the disease.
“I think we’re getting better at recognizing that if we are keeping people up to date on vaccines, we’re helping to prevent these long-term diseases from being as significant,” said Bethany Zeigler, M.D., a Sanford Health family medicine specialist in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “Being up to date on vaccines can help prevent hospitalizations.”
A first step toward getting the vaccines you need is a conversation with your doctor.
“My perspective comes from being a family physician where I feel that from the moment you’re born to the day you die, you should be seeing your primary care provider once a year for what we call an annual wellness visit,” said Jason Wurth, M.D., a Sanford Health family medicine specialist in Sioux Falls. “That’s where we keep up with your immunizations and a lot of other things – things like your medical history and cancer screenings.”
Why adults should get immunized
Patients often ask their providers to explain why a shot in the arm can safely play such a vital role in long-term health.
Providers answer the question by telling patients that many vaccines work by injecting weakened or killed bacteria or viruses into the body. They show your body’s immune system how to fight the disease and produce antibodies without getting you sick.
They will also tell their patients that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines don’t include any viruses or bacteria. They work by delivering a message to your cells that teaches them how to recognize a disease and fight it off.
“Immunizations are part of the overall discussion of a patient’s health,” Dr. Wurth said. “You educate and let them make their own decisions.”
Generally speaking, there can be some mild side-effects for adult vaccines, but symptoms are short-term.
“When you get a shingles shot or a tetanus shot, it goes into the muscle, so you get some pain at the site,” Dr. Zeigler said. “And after a shingles shot, some people feel a little down for a while. Those are the two vaccines where I make sure to let people know ahead of time of possible side-effects.”
Clearing up misconceptions about vaccines, which became more prevalent during the COVID-19 era, remains a persistent challenge for providers advising patients.
“Vaccines have had a long history of being able to help people,” Dr. Zeigler said. “I strongly recommend having a vaccine conversation with your provider. There is a lot of misinformation out there and we can try and help by providing the right information.”
Recommended adult vaccinations
As recommended by the CDC, adults should keep their vaccines updated for the following:
- Pneumococcal infections
- Hepatitis B
- RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) – adults 60 and older should talk to provider about getting a single dose
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough)
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) if born in 1957 or later
Talk to your primary care provider about what vaccines are right for you by scheduling a wellness visit. If you know what vaccines you need, you can schedule a vaccine visit through My Sanford Chart. Sanford Health makes it easy for you to get caught up on your vaccines at our convenient locations near you. You can also get the annual flu shot and updated COVID-19 vaccines at local vaccination events.
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