You’re never too old to get vaccines. In fact, sticking to an immunization schedule as you age gives you the best shot at long-term health.
“An ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure,” says Evan Anderson, MD. “Many adults are at risk of vaccine-preventable illnesses, and sometimes the damage is done after an infection has set in.
“So being able to prevent illness is better than trying to treat it once it's set in.”
If you’re not sure of your immunization status, talk to your doctor. Meantime, here’s some of the ones you want to make sure you’re up to date on.
Doctors agree your best protection against it is the flu vaccine.
Anderson says your risk of having the flu is cut by about half if you get the shot. If you still come down with it after you’ve been vaccinated, it’s likely to be shorter and less severe.
Who should get it: Everyone -- young, old, and in between -- should get a flu shot, but especially pregnant women, people with long-term health issues, and people over 65.
Who shouldn’t get it: If you’ve had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, or are allergic to eggs, or have had Guillain-Barre syndrome (which causes tingling, weakness, and loss of movement in your muscles), talk to your doctor about whether you should get it.
When to get it: It’s important to get a shot every year. Each will last just one flu season because the virus evolves. So what worked this year may not work as well next year.
Typically, people come down with it between November and April, Anderson says. You should look for a new vaccine batch to hit your doctor’s office in late August or September.
This stands for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). All three can cause serious illness or death. Tetanus and diphtheria cases have gone down 99% since this vaccine was introduced. Whooping cough cases have fallen by 80%.
Who should get it: Everyone. It’s also a safeguard for those most vulnerable to the diseases, like people with compromised immune systems.
If you’re pregnant, it’s especially critical to get the Tdap vaccine. It gives your baby short-term protection against whooping cough.
Who shouldn’t get it: If you’ve had seizures or an allergic reaction to Tdap, you may need to avoid it.
When to get it: If you’re pregnant, you should get the vaccine between your 27th and 36th week. (Your baby will get his own vaccine, called DTaP, once he’s born.) Everyone should have a booster for tetanus and diphtheria (called a Td) every 10 years, or any time you’re exposed to tetanus. If you work with or are around infants, be sure to get your Tdap at least two weeks before coming into contact with them.
Hepatitis A and B
These are two viruses that infect your liver. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people get hepatitis A each year. About the same number get hepatitis B. The vaccine will protect adults for at least 25 years.
Who should get it: Anyone can get hepatitis A or B, but you’re most at risk if you:
- Travel outside the country
- Are a man who has sex with other men
- Use illegal drugs
- Have a clotting-factor disorder, like hemophilia
- Come into regular, close contact with someone with hepatitis A
- Have a chronic liver disease
Who shouldn’t get it: If you have allergies to anything in the hepatitis A or B vaccine, talk to your doctor. If you’re sick when you’re scheduled to get either shot, move the appointment to when you’re well. If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor before getting the hepatitis A shot.
How you get it: The hepatitis A vaccine comes in two doses, 6 months apart. The hepatitis B vaccine takes three shots. There is also a combination vaccine that protects against hepatitis A and B. It comes in three doses.
This stands for human papillomavirus. The infection it causes can lead to cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers in women, and penile cancer in men. It can also cause anal cancer, throat cancer, and genital warts.
Who should get it: The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls at age 11 or 12 so they're protected before ever being exposed to the virus. However, women younger than 26 and men who aren’t yet 21 can still get it. Men who are in sexual relationships with other men can get the vaccine until age 26.
Who shouldn’t get it: People who are allergic to it or are pregnant.
How you get it: The HPV vaccine comes in three doses. Your doctor will give you the second shot a month or two after the first. You’ll get the third dose 6 months after the opener.
Infection with this bacteria can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, blood infections, and death. There are two vaccines for it: PCV13 (called pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) and PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine).
Who should get it: Your doctor should recommend this vaccine once you turn 65. If you are at least 19 years old, you should also consider it if you:
- Live with chronic illness
- Have sickle cell disease
- Have a cochlear implant
- Have a transplanted organ
- Have HIV or another illness that affects your immune system
You’re also at higher risk of getting the disease if you smoke.
Who shouldn’t get it: Those who know they’re allergic to the vaccine.
When you should get it: The CDC recommends 2 pneumococcal vaccines for all adults 65 years or older. You should receive a dose of PCV13 first, followed by a dose of PPSV23 at least 1 year later.
Measles, Mumps, Rubella
The MMR vaccine, as it’s called, protects against all three of these highly contagious diseases. The number of measles cases in the U.S. is on the rise. This is because more and more people aren’t immunized.
Who should get it: If you were born after 1957, haven’t gotten your MMR vaccine, and have never had measles, you should see your doctor about getting the shot. It’s also good for
- College students
- Health care workers
- People who travel outside the U.S.
Who shouldn’t get it: If you’re pregnant, have HIV or AIDS, are taking medication for cancer, or have a blood disorder, avoid it. Also, if you’ve had another vaccine within four weeks, recently had a blood transfusion, or are ill, you may need to delay your shot.
How you get it: It comes in one dose, given by your doctor.
Kids get this vaccine as part of their routine checkups. But it wasn’t around before 1995. Now, the number of people with chickenpox is at an all-time low in the U.S.
Who should get the vaccine: If it wasn’t around when you were a child, you should think about getting it, especially if you:
- Work in health care
- Work or live with children
- Are in college
- Work in a jail or prison
- Are in the military
- Are of childbearing age
- Travel to other countries
Who shouldn’t get it: If you’re pregnant, wait until one month after your baby’s born. Talk with your doctor first if:
- You’ve had a blood transfusion
- You have HIV, AIDS, or cancer
- You’re taking medicine for any of the above diseases
How you get it: The vaccine comes in two doses. Your doctor will give them to you 28 days apart.
Its actual name is the herpes zoster virus. The vaccine for it has been around only since 2006. It’s reduced shingles cases in the U.S. by 51%. It also protects against a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. That’s a complication that brings burning pain after the symptoms of shingles go away.
Who should get the vaccine: Adults older than 60. You should have it even if you had chickenpox, which comes from the same virus as shingles. You should also have it if you’ve already had shingles.
Who shouldn’t get it: If you’re allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin, you should stay away from it. Don’t get it if you’re pregnant, or if you have a weakened immune system from illness or medications.
How you get it: It comes in a one-dose shot, given by your doctor.