Chances are you haven’t thought about vaccines since your children were children. But adults need them, too. “There are diseases, like shingles, that you’re more at risk for as you age”, explains William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “In addition, our immune systems weaken as we get older, which leaves us more susceptible to complications from diseases like the flu.”
And that’s not to mention the resurgence of conditions you never thought you’d have to worry about. Case in point: In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the most cases of measles in decades. (Wondering about your measles status? Check with your doctor. Some women born between 1957 and 1989 could benefit from a booster.)
This recent outbreak left us curious about what other vaccines we should consider. Read on for the expert-backed recommendations that’ll keep you feeling vibrant and healthy.
Consider the shingles vaccine if you’re at risk for heart disease.
Shingles, a condition marked by a painful, blistering rash, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. “It stays silent in your body and can reactivate years later”, says Dr. Schaffner. When that happens, it raises the risk of heart attack or stroke by 41 percent, say researchers in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. “The virus causes inflammation in your arteries, which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke”, says Quanhe Yang, PhD, a senior scientist in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the CDC. The good news: A new vaccine, Shingrix, is more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles. Experts suggest getting it even if you’ve already had shingles or if you’ve received an older shingles vaccine.
Consider the flu vaccine if you have diabetes.
“Diabetes makes the immune system less able to fight infections”, says Dr. Schaffner. “And diabetics are more likely to end up in the hospital with complications from the flu.” But getting the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related hospitalizations among diabetics by 79 percent. Dr. Schaffner advises asking for the shot, not the nasal spray — it contains a live virus, which can be harmful for diabetics. He also suggests getting a pneumococcal vaccine annually, since pneumonia is a common but serious flu-related complication.
Consider the Tdap vaccine if you have little ones in your life.
There’s been a resurgence of whooping cough in the US, with the CDC recently reporting the highest levels since 1955. Infants are especially susceptible to catching whooping cough, and it can prove fatal. “If you’re going to be anywhere near a baby, make sure you’re up to date on your Tdap”, says Dr. Schaffner. Infants should get the vaccine at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months, but for adults, the vaccine is only one dose and can be given any time. Not sure if you’ve been vaccinated? Dr. Schaffner suggests getting the Tdap vaccine anyway, as a second dose causes no harm.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.