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7 vaccines all adults should have

Knowing what vaccines to get and when as an adult can be confusing. That's why the experts are sharing what common vaccines adults need.
Image: Vaccine
/ Source: TODAY

Three members of the Kennedy family are calling out Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for a serious reason: They don't agree with his opinions on vaccines.

“We love Bobby,” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Maeve Kennedy McKean, wrote in the Politico article. “However, on vaccines he is wrong.”

They’re right. Robert Kennedy Jr. often shares misinformation about vaccines. But, his family countered, writing:

“Immunizations prevent some 2 million to 3 million deaths a year, and have the potential to save another 1.5 million lives every year with broader vaccine coverage, according to the WHO. Smallpox, which plagued mankind for thousands of years, has been eradicated through vaccines.”

Most vaccination efforts are aimed at protecting children, but adults also need to be immunized to protect against some rough diseases.

“Adults forget about their own health,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Center for Preparedness and Response, told TODAY. “It is important that adults get vaccines to protect themselves. If you are protecting yourself, you can’t pass illness on."

But it can be confusing to know what vaccines adults need and when they need them. The experts share some of the more common vaccines adults should get.

1. Shingles

The same virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster, causes shingles. After a childhood chickenpox infection, the virus is dormant and can reactivate. While anyone who had chickenpox can develop shingles, a painful rash, older adults are at an increased risk of developing it. That’s why people over 50 should get the shingles vaccine.

“It stops the body from developing shingles,” Snyder said.

2. Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap)

Anyone who’s ever stepped on a sharp object or cut themselves and visited a doctor is suddenly faced with the question of when they last received a tetanus shot. Tetanus, a bacteria which gets into broken skin, causes the painful and sometimes fatal lockjaw. Two different bacteria can cause diphtheria and whooping cough, both of which can be fatal in children.

While children receive tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines (Tdap), adults require boosters every 10 years for continued protection.

Infants too young to receive Tdap remain the most vulnerable to whooping cough so it's extremely important that pregnant women make sure their booster is up-to-date to protect their infants.

“All pregnant women should be re-immunized for whooping cough,” Fennelly said.

3. Meningococcal vaccines

Two vaccines, meningococcal vaccine and a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, prevent Neisseria meningitidis-caused illnesses, such as meningitis, which often thrives in group living settings, such as college campuses and military barracks.

4. Pneumococcal vaccines

Adults over 65 should receive the two pneumococcal vaccines (PCV13 and PPSV23), which prevents them from developing two types of bacterial pneumonia.

“They’re really effective,” Snyder said.

5. HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection with the CDC estimating that 80 million people in the U.S. have it. While some strains of HPV cause warts others can cause cervical cancer in women. Teenagers normally receive the vaccine, but women until age 26 and men until age 22 can receive it, too. It also effectively stops the development of any cancers before they even start.

6. MMR booster

Children currently receive two measles, mumps and rubella vaccine shots, which offers 97% protection.

But there are some adults who received vaccines that might not provide as much protection as the current vaccine does. Between 1963 and 1968 about 1 million people received a killed-virus vaccine, which is less effective, said Messonnier. People who know they received this vaccine or are unsure should talk to their doctors about getting a booster shot, which will give them more protection.

From 1968 to 1989, children only received one dose of the MMR vaccine. This provides 93% protection and getting a booster increases that to about 97% protection.

“Most adults in the United States are protected against the measles,” Messonnier said.

But, she said any concerned patients should talk to their doctors about all their vaccination options.

7. Flu shot

Multiple strains of the influenza virus cause the flu and these strains vary from year to year.

“We don’t have one vaccine that covers all influenza,” Dr. Graham Snyder, director of infection prevention at UPMC in Pittsburgh, told TODAY.

That’s why it’s important that adults receive a flu vaccine annually. While many believe flu is just a really bad cold, it can be deadly.

“Deaths range from 30,000 to 50,000 a year,” Dr. Glenn Fennelly, an infectious disease specialist and professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told TODAY. “Annual flu vaccines should be universal. Everyone can benefit from the flu vaccine.”

In some rare cases people who received the vaccine will also develop the flu. But it’s normally less severe than it would be if person developed it without the vaccine.