A doctor putting a vaccine needle into a patient's arm.
While most vaccines are administered in childhood, there are boosters to get in adulthood, such as the influenza, HPV and hepatitis B vaccines.

Vaccine Schedule for Adults

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought vaccination to the forefront of public conversation, but this is not the only vaccine adults need. We get many of our shots as children, but there are some that either require periodic boosters or we cannot get or do not need until we are older. We’re here to tell you about the vaccine schedule for adults, who needs them and why they are important.

5 Vaccines for Adults

1. Flu

Who Needs It?
The CDC recommends that all adults should receive a yearly dose of the flu vaccine at the start of cold and flu season (between the beginning of September and the end of October). People with significant egg allergies may need to receive their vaccine in a supervised medical setting or receive egg-free vaccine formulas.

Why Do You Need It?
The influenza virus is one of the most common and rapidly mutating sicknesses that affects humans. The virus changes enough over each cold and flu season that we need a new vaccine to immunize us against newly evolved strains every year. Flu vaccines can massively reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu and going to the hospital with flu-like illness, and it also helps protect vulnerable populations from the flu.

2. COVID-19

Who Needs It?
The CDC currently recommends that everybody over the age of 5 receive a COVID vaccination, which is free for everybody in the U.S. There are different types of COVID-19 vaccines, and the precise schedule will depend on which one you receive first. In general, most adults should be eligible for a primary round (one or two shots depending on the brand) and then a single booster at least four months later. Adults over 65 may need an additional booster.

Why Do You Need It?
The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19. While breakthrough infections for vaccinated people are common, these infections tend to be much more mild and less likely to lead to hospitalization. Similar to the flu vaccine, vaccinating yourself against COVID-19 protects those who are more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID.

3. Tdap/Td

Who Needs It?
The Tdap vaccine is a multi-function vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. All adolescents should receive a Tdap vaccine around age 12, but this vaccine still makes the list of adult vaccines because pregnant people need an additional dose of the Tdap vaccine at the beginning of each new pregnancy. For all other adults, a booster dose of either Tdap or Td (a similar vaccine without pertussis) is recommended every 10 years.

Why Do You Need It?
Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis are all serious bacterial illnesses that can cause life-threatening complications. Unvaccinated adults or those whose vaccines are out of date are at risk for all three of these illnesses. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is particularly dangerous for babies. This is why a new dose of Tdap is recommended for mothers during each pregnancy.

4. HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)

Who Needs It?
Adults who were not adequately vaccinated for HPV in adolescence (usually around age 12) should be vaccinated for HPV before age 26. However, beyond this age, there may be less benefit for adults older than 26 to be vaccinated. This is because most people will have been exposed to HPV naturally by this point.

Why Do You Need It?
In most cases, HPV is not especially harmful, and most sexually active adults are positive for HPV. However, vaccination is recommended against specific strains of HPV that are linked with the development of cancer in several areas of the body, including the cervix, anus and oropharyngeal tract.

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5. Hepatitis B

Who Needs It?
Adults between the ages of 19 to 59 should receive a single dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. Older adults are only recommended this vaccine if they have specific risk factors for hepatitis B, which can include certain sexual behaviors and regular exposure to needles (e.g. in healthcare workers).

Why Do You Need It?
Hepatitis B is an extremely infectious viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver. While it is less deadly in the acute phase than its sister disease, hepatitis C, it can cause chronic liver damage and eventual death.

Additional Vaccines for Seniors

While the five on this list can and should be administered to younger adults, there is an additional battery of vaccines that become important as we age. This is because as our bodies and immune systems change, we become more vulnerable to certain diseases. Some of the vaccines for seniors include:

  • Shingles. About a third of people will develop shingles in their lifetime, and the risk of developing this painful skin condition increases as we age. Shingles is caused by the reemergence of the chicken pox virus, which lays dormant in cells after initial infection. Adults over 50 should receive two doses of the shingles vaccine.
  • PPSV23. This protects against serious pneumococcal diseases, including meningitis and bloodstream infections. Adults aged 65 or older should receive this vaccine.

Final Thoughts

In general, most adults should be able to receive the vaccines on this list safely and at the recommended age. However, some people with certain health conditions may need to wait to get certain vaccines or should not get them at all. There are also additional vaccines recommended for people with certain health conditions. For a full vaccination schedule, consult the CDC and talk to your doctor.

Because of this, and because there are additional vaccines available for special circumstances, such as travel, you should always consult with your doctor when making vaccination decisions for yourself or your loved ones.