Vaccines have become routine for children's healthcare as they protect against serious and potentially life-threating diseases; however, vaccines aren’t just for kids. Adults also need protection against major diseases that may occur later in life. WVU Medicine primary care physician Amy Moyers, MD, discusses the top five vaccines adults need, why each vaccine is important, and how often you should be vaccinated.
1. Flu vaccine
- Who: Every one six months and older needs an influenza (flu) vaccine, especially adults age 65 and older. A flu vaccine is also necessary for any one with chronic diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and heart disease.
- What: You’ll need a regular influenza vaccine if you’re under age 65 or a high-dose influenza vaccine if you’re 65 or older.
- When: Get vaccinated once every year in the fall to early winter (mid-September through January).
- Why: Seasonal flu can cause several missed days of work and even hospitalization for severe symptoms like dehydration and difficulty breathing. Children and the elderly are also at increased risk of death from the flu; however, they are more protected when those around them have been vaccinated.
2. Pneumonia vaccine
- Who: You need this vaccine if you are age 65 and older, your immune system is compromised, you are a smoker, or you have chronic diseases such as asthma, COPD, and diabetes.
- What: You’ll need a pneumococcal vaccine type PCV 13 (Prevnar) or PPSV 23 (Pneumovax). Prevnar protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria, and it is recommended for infants and young children. Pneumovax protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria, and it is recommended for all adults age 65 or older and for those two years or older at high risk for disease.
- When: For those who are immune compromised and have chronic diseases, you need a Pneumovax vaccine once before age 65. For all adults 65 and older, you’ll need a Prevnar vaccine at age 65 and a Pneumovax vaccine one year later.
- Why: The pneumonia vaccination can help prevent infections from the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae that causes pneumonia, meningitis, and other life-threatening infections. A pneumococcal infection can cause hospitalization, severe symptoms requiring life support, and even death.
3. Tetanus vaccine
- Who: All adults need this vaccine, especially parents of infants or people at risk for severe or dirty wounds or burns. All pregnant women should receive a vaccine during each pregnancy.
- What: Your primary care provider will recommend a Td or a Tdap vaccine. The Td vaccine protects against two possibly life-threatening bacterial diseases, tetanus and diphtheria, while the Tdap vaccine provides protection from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).
- When: Get vaccinated with Tdap once during adulthood and then with Td every 10 years. A Td vaccine may be required sooner if you obtain a severe or dirty wound or burn.
- Why: Tetanus is caused by a toxin-producing bacteria that is often introduced into the blood stream through a severe injury or burn and can cause serious, painful muscle contractions throughout your body that can lead to death. Tetanus vaccines with pertussis (whooping cough) protection keep infants from being exposed to whooping cough, which may only be an annoying cough for an adult but could be deadly for a newborn.
4. Shingles vaccine
- Who: Every one age 60 and older needs vaccinated.
- What: You’ll need a varicella zoster vaccine (Zostavax).
- When: You’ll receive one dose after turning age 60.
- Why: Shingles is a very painful rash that can leave behind scars and long-lasting nerve pain after the rash has resolved. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and most individuals over age 40 have had chickenpox when they were younger. Because of this, the virus can then come back in the form of shingles. For patients that haven't had chickenpox in the past, the shingles vaccine is extra protective as it will protect against both chickenpox and shingles.
5. Hepatitis vaccine
- Who: You’ll need this vaccine if you’re traveling outside of the country, you have a compromised immune system, or you have chronic diseases such as diabetes. Any healthcare worker or individual who will be exposed to high-risk body fluids (i.e. daycare workers, teachers, prison guards, etc.) should also be vaccinated.
- What: Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine
- When: The hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses once during your lifetime, and the hepatitis B vaccine is a three-vaccine series given once during your lifetime.
- Why: Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by the hepatitis viruses. There are many forms of hepatitis; however, hepatitis A and B are the only forms that have routine vaccination. These vaccines are now routine for childhood vaccinations as they have proven beneficial and necessary for the majority of the population. Hepatitis can cause serious liver damage leading to scarring of the liver resulting in cancer, liver failure, and ultimately death if not treated appropriately.
Learn more about prevention guidelines based on your gender and age.
Do you need to get vaccinated? Make an appointment with a WVU Medicine primary care provider: 855-WVU-CARE.