Recommended Vaccines for Adults

3 Vaccines Every Adult Needs (and 5 You May Need)

Children get a lot of vaccinations when they are little, but many parents and adults forget that they need immunizations too. Just because you are an adult doesn’t mean you have already "built up your immunity" and are at less risk of infectious diseases. In some cases, adults may be more at risk than children (as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic).

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There are three vaccines recommended for all adults by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—influenza, Tdap or Td, and COVID-19—and five others that are recommended if you have not been adequately vaccinated or have certain health conditions.

If you are unsure if you are up to date with your immunizations, ask your healthcare provider.

For Adults 18 and Over

Some adult vaccinations are limited to specific age groups. Others are not used for primary immunization but rather as a booster to maintain long-term immunity.

Influenza Vaccine

Everyone over 6 months of age should receive an annual flu vaccination. Those between the ages of 2 and 49 can opt for the flu vaccine nasal spray (FluMist). For other ages, the flu shot is the only option.

While the influenza vaccination is important at every age, it is especially important for people 65 and older, as they are at increased risk of serious complications including pneumonia and hospitalization.

The flu shot requires only one dose, delivered by intramuscular injection (into a large muscle). FluMist is sprayed into both nostrils but, as a live vaccine, is avoided in people who are pregnant or immunocompromised.

Tdap and Td Boosters

After receiving the DTaP vaccine during childhood to protect against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough), everyone 11 years and older should get one dose of the Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine, followed by either a Tdap or Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster every 10 years.

To ensure protection against pertussis, all adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should get a dose of Tdap if they did not already receive one. The Tdap vaccine should also be administered between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of when you had your last Tdap or Td vaccination.

If you get a cut or burn, you might need to get a dose of Tdap or Td to protect against tetanus. A dose is recommended if you have a clean, minor wound and it has been at least 10 years since you last received a tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine (DTaP, TdaP, Td). For all other wounds, you should get a dose if it's been more than 5 years since you last got a tetanus-toxoid-containing vaccine. Those who have not previously received Tdap (or do not know if they've received it) should get a dose of Tdap instead of Td.

Both the Tdap and Td vaccines are delivered intramuscularly.

COVID-19 Vaccine

There are three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States. Each is delivered by intramuscular injection. As of October 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized or approved the following COVID-19 vaccines:

The CDC recommends that everyone 5 years and older get the COVID-19 vaccination. Everyone ages 12 years and older should also receive a booster shot after completing their initial vaccine series. A second booster is available to some people, including those 50 and over.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus linked to cervical cancer and anal cancer.

The HPV vaccine, called Gardasil-9, is recommended as a two-dose series for children starting at age 11 or 12, but can also be used in anyone through age 26 if they have not been vaccinated. For people 15 to 26, three doses are given by intramuscular injection over the course of six months.

Gardasil-9 can also be used in adults 27 to 45 based on shared clinical decision-making with their doctor. Although the protective benefits may be less than in younger people, the vaccine is safe and won't hurt you if you are older.

MMR Vaccine

If you have not had an MMR vaccine and have never had measles, mumps, or rubella (German measles), you may need the vaccine. Adults without evidence of immunity should receive one dose of the MMR vaccine. Being born before 1957 is considered evidence of immunity by the CDC.

Two MMR vaccines are approved for use in the United States (M-M-R II, Priorix). Both are live attenuated vaccines delivered by subcutaneous injection (beneath the skin).

Varicella (Chickenpox) Vaccine

Varicella (chickenpox) vaccination is recommended for adults 18 and older without evidence of immunity. Being born before 1980 is considered evidence of immunity by the CDC.

For adults in need of immunization, two doses of the varicella vaccine are given by subcutaneous injection four to eight weeks apart. Pregnant women should not receive the vaccine.

Vaccines Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

For Adults 50 and Over

There are certain infectious diseases that adults 50 and over are especially vulnerable to, the risk of which increases with each advancing year.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

All people 65 and older should be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. This bacterial infection can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and septicemia, which can be potentially severe. There are three vaccines used for this purpose:

  • A pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, PCV15 (Vaxneuvance) or PCV20 (Prevnar 20), is recommended for all adults 65 years or older and those ages 19 to 64 years with certain risk factors or medical conditions who have not previously received a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or whose previous vaccination history is unknown.
  • The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine PPSV23 (Pneumovax23) is recommended for all adults 19 years and older who received the PCV15 vaccine at least one year prior.

PCV15 and PCV20 are delivered intramuscularly, whereas PPSV23 can be given either by intramuscular or subcutaneous injection.

Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Vaccine

According to the CDC, one in three Americans will develop shingles (herpes zoster) in their lifetime. Almost all shingles deaths are in people over 65 or those with compromised immune systems.

Due to the high incidence of shingles in older people, as well as the risk of severe neurological and eye complications, shingles vaccination is recommended for all healthy adults 50 and over. Vaccination is also recommended for adults 19 years and older who are immunocompromised.

There is one shingles vaccine used in the United States, called Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine). It is delivered by intramuscular injection in two doses separated by two to six months.

A Word From Verywell

Before getting a vaccine, check with your healthcare provider about any conditions you have that may contraindicate the vaccine's use. This may include pregnancy, being immunocompromised, or having a pre-existing health condition. Knowing this can help you avoid getting a vaccine that may be potentially harmful. At the same time, there may be alternative vaccines that may be safe for you.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What vaccines are recommended for you?

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Table 1. Recommended adult immunization schedule for ages 19 years or older, United States.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (flu).

  4. Medimmune. Package insert - FluMist quadrivalent.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tetanus vaccination.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Who should get diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccines?

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV vaccine.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV vaccine schedule and dosing.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox (varicella): Administering the vaccine.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles burden and trends.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingrix recommendations.

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.