Feature Article: 5 Reasons Adults Need Vaccines

Published on in Parents PACK

“Do as I say, not as I do.”

Even the best parents can fall into this trap from time to time. Whether it is eating vegetables, managing screen time or not telling a white lie, sometimes we ask our children to do things that we do not do ourselves.

Vaccines are one example. We tend to think of vaccines as something that only children need to get; however, the reality is that adults are 100 times more likely than children to die of vaccine-preventable diseases. Yet, many adults do not even realize they need vaccinations.

Here are five reasons why adults may need vaccines:

Immunity can fade

Some vaccines do not provide lifelong protection against disease. One example that most adults are aware of is the tetanus vaccine, recommended every 10 years. However, most adults do not realize that when they get a “tetanus shot,” they are also getting a booster dose of diphtheria vaccine; and if they get the version called Tdap, a dose of pertussis vaccine as well.

A second chance to get a vaccine missed during childhood

In some cases adults may not have had the disease, and a vaccine may have been missed or unavailable when they were younger. MMR and chickenpox (varicella) are common examples of vaccines needed for this reason.

Viruses or bacteria change over time

Influenza is a prime example of this phenomenon. What makes influenza particularly cunning is its ability to mutate, or change its surface, so that immunization or natural infection one year does not protect against disease the following year.

Your immune system changes with age

As people age, their immune systems change, leading to less robust immune responses when pathogens are encountered. Two diseases that vaccines can help stave off as people age include shingles and pneumococcus. Adults with altered immune systems may also require these or other vaccines.  

Special circumstances may warrant it

Special circumstances may warrant additional vaccinations for some adults. Pregnancy, travel, occupation, diagnosis of a new condition, or current outbreaks are all situations in which adults may need vaccinations. Recently, outbreaks of mumps on college campuses have led to recommendations for a third dose of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for some students. Also, if you live with or take care of someone with a compromised immune system, getting vaccinated helps protect them since they may not be able to receive certain vaccines.

While parents decide what they and their children should or should not do, vaccines should be among the things on the “to-do” list. Vaccines help you to stay healthy and provide peace of mind, knowing that you did all you could to protect yourself and your family against many diseases. Practically speaking, getting sick can interrupt your busy days and have a negative effect on responsibilities such as a job or caring for loved ones. Contact your healthcare provider today and ask for a review of your vaccine record.

VEC resources

The Vaccine Education Center addresses vaccine needs across the lifespan. Our recently updated booklet, Vaccines and Adults: A Lifetime of Health (English | Spanish), provides detailed information about adult vaccine recommendations, dosing, and common questions and answers. We also recently updated our shingles Q&A sheet, and released a video, with information about the new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix®.

We offer a variety of additional resources related to adult vaccines:

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.