What Is the Vaccine Schedule for Adults?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 20, 2023
6 min read

Vaccines aren’t just for kids. Grown-ups need them to protect against diseases that become more common in adulthood. They can also protect you if you missed a dose as a child.

Most adults need some or all of the following 11 vaccines.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist what you need. Let them know if you'll be traveling internationally, if you have allergies, or if you’re pregnant. All of those things can affect which vaccines you need and which you should skip for now.

How you get it: As a shot, or sometimes a nasal spray is recommended

How often and when: Once a year, usually starting in September through the end of the flu season, which can last as late as May. The earlier you get it, the better your protection.

Who should get it: All adults should get the vaccine in some form, unless they have a medical reason not to. The shot is the most common type. The nasal spray version has often been available for healthy adults up to age 49 who aren’t pregnant.

There is an egg-free vaccine in case you have severe egg allergies. And if injections make you nervous, you can also get a shot that uses a smaller needle and doesn't pierce as deeply. Also, people who have a greater chance of getting the flu, like those over 65, can get high-dose injections that give them better protection.

How you get it: As a shot

How often and when: There are two types of these vaccines. If you’re a healthy adult over 65, you’ll need one or both. The timing and sequence of them depend on what vaccine you may have had before. Doctors may recommend more doses of the vaccine depending on which vaccine they received first for people with long-lasting kidney failure or other conditions that weaken the immune system. People who get their first pneumococcal shot before age 65 get a second dose after 65.

Who should get it: All adults 65 and older. If you’re younger than 64, you need it if you:

  • Have long-term conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, alcoholism, cirrhosis, leaks of cerebrospinal fluid, or a cochlear implant
  • Have a disease that lowers your body’s defenses against infection, including lymphoma or leukemia, multiple myeloma, kidney failure, HIV, and AIDS
  • Take medication or treatment that makes you more likely to get an infection. These include steroids, some cancer drugs, and radiation therapy.
  • Smoke or have asthma
  • Live in a nursing home or long-term care facility

How you get it: A single shot of Tdap protects against all three diseases. One shot of Td guards against tetanus and diphtheria.

How often and when: A one-time Tdap vaccination, followed by a Td booster every 10 years.

Who should get it?

  • All adults over 18 need a dose of Tdap and then a booster as Tdap or Td every 10
  • Pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine, preferably between weeks 27 and 36 of each pregnancy.
  • Anyone who hasn’t had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years and has already gotten a Tdap shot should get a Td vaccine.

How you get it: As a shot

How often and when: First dose any time after age 1, second dose at least 6 months later.

Who should get it? People of all ages who:

  • Live in a community with a high rate of hepatitis A
  • Are men having sex with other men
  • Use street drugs
  • Work in or travel to countries with widespread hepatitis A
  • Live or have traveled where there’s been an outbreak of the disease
  • Have long-lasting liver disease
  • Have HIV
  • Get blood products to help with clotting
  • Work with hepatitis A-infected animals or in research projects on it
  • Are  experiencing homelessness
  • Have close contact with an international adoptee

How you get it: As a shot

How often and when: You'll get a series two or three shots depending on the type of vaccine used. 

Who should get it? Adults of all ages at risk for hepatitis B infection, including those who:

  • Are health care workers
  • Have diabetes
  • Have sex with or live in the same house with a person who has the disease
  • Have sex with more than one partner
  • Are men having sex with other men
  • Get treatment for STDs, HIV, or drug addiction
  • Inject illegal drugs
  • Have advanced kidney disease or are on dialysis
  • Have HIV
  • Work in or go to a center for people with developmental disabilities
  • Have long-lasting liver disease
  • Live or travel for 6 months to a year in countries where hepatitis B is common
  • Are prisoners in correctional facilities

How you get it: A series of three shots

How often and when: Preferably at ages 11 or 12, but older teens and young adults can get it, too. If you start before you are 15, then you get the second shot 1 to 2 months after the first. 

Who should get it? Young women and some men up to age 26 who didn't get it as preteens or teenagers. It’s best to get it before you start having sex.

How you get it: In a single shot that protects against the three viruses

How often and when: One shot, in some cases followed by a booster at least 4 weeks later

Who should get it? Adults who were born after 1957, haven’t had measles, mumps, or rubella, and don’t have any immunity to them. Because this vaccine is made with live viruses, pregnant women shouldn’t get it, though women should get it at least 4 weeks before they get pregnant.

How you get it:  As a shot

How often and when: Any time, in two doses 4-8 weeks apart

Who should get it? Healthy adults who aren’t pregnant, haven't had chickenpox before, and aren’t immune to the virus. This vaccine is made with live viruses, so you shouldn’t get it if you have a weak immune system because of a disease (like cancer or HIV) or medical treatments (like steroids or chemotherapy).

How you get it: As a shot

How often and when: The first shot at age 11 or 12, with a booster at 16 and when a doctor recommends one.

Who should get it? Adults who haven't had the vaccine should get it if they:

  • Are a college freshman living in a dorm
  • Are a military recruit
  • Have a damaged spleen or have had their spleen removed
  • Have an immune system problem that puts them at risk for bacterial infection
  • Work a lot with the bacteria that cause meningitis
  • Are traveling to or living in countries where the disease is common

How you get it: As a shot

How often and when: Shingrix (RZV) is recommended for healthy adults 50 and older and well as those 19 years of age and older who are or will be immunodeficient or immunosuppressed due to disease or therapy.. It is administered in two shots, 2 to 6 months apart. It can be over 90% effective in prevening shingles and protection lasts an estimated 4-5 years.

Who should get it? All healthy adults aged 50 and older should get Shingrex unless they have health problems or get treatments that affect how well their bodies fight infection. In addition, any adult over the age of 19 years of age who is immunocompromised due to illness or therapy.

How you get it: As a shot 

How often and when: The Pfizer vaccine is given in two shots, 3 to 8 weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is also administered in two shots, 4 to 8 weeks apart. 

Who should get it? They are recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. Those ages 6 months to 4 years require a 3rd dose if receiving the Pfizer vaccine.