Why Even Adults Need to Get Their Booster Shots


When you think vaccines, you probably immediately think of children. Much of the debate regarding vaccination rules today focuses on ensuring that children are protected against harmful diseases, with rules regarding requirements for school attendance dominating headlines across the country.

However, what’s often ignored in conversations about vaccinations is the fact that adults need to keep up with their shots as well. Although some individuals are required to provide proof of vaccination for their employment (such as teachers and health care workers) the majority of adults don’t really think about whether their vaccinations are up-to-date. In fact, despite a slight overall increase in vaccinations among adults overall, the CDC reports that more than 50,000 adults die every year from diseases that are preventable with vaccines, including influenza, acute respiratory infection, and meningitis.

Many adults opt to get a flu shot every year, but a growing number are not up-to date on other important vaccines. For example, adults need a tetanus booster shot every 10 years, or a Tdap booster that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whopping cough) if they have never had one before. Other important boosters include the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) if only one dose was given, and varicella (chicken pox) if there isn’t evidence of immunity present. These shots are important for several reasons beyond protecting you from disease.

Protecting the Community

With vaccination rates among children declining, several diseases that were once considered to be eradicated, like measles, are making a comeback. Already in 2019, more than 100 people have been diagnosed with the disease, more than the number diagnosed in the entirety of 2019. Experts note that the highly contagious disease, which can be fatal, tends to spread quickly in areas with high concentrations of unvaccinated individuals, which includes adults who haven’t received all of the required doses or boosters of the vaccine.

Given that we live in a highly mobile society, it’s easier than ever before for these diseases to spread quickly. In the past, the notion of “herd immunity,” meaning that at least 95 percent of the population was vaccinated against a disease, was considered adequate for keeping those at risk, such as very young children, from contracting these diseases. However, as the number of unvaccinated individuals increases, herd immunity is not as effective. In short, when you don’t receive your booster shots, not only are you at risk of the disease, you are putting others at risk too by potentially becoming a carrier of the disease.

Not All Vaccines Last Forever

While some vaccines, like the MMR, will provide ongoing protection after the initial series, some vaccines, such as the tetanus shot, do not. The protection provided by the tetanus and pertussis vaccines typically only lasts about 10 years, so it’s important to stay up-to-date. In the event that you have an accident that could lead to tetanus (like stepping on a rusty nail) having your shots up-to-date will provide the necessary protection without having to get another shot to be sure.

Adults often need booster shots because they weren’t adequately vaccinated as a child. It’s possible that you were born before the comprehensive vaccination schedules of today, and thus may not be adequately protected. If you aren’t sure about your childhood vaccinations, talk with your doctor about filling in the gaps and what you may need to do now.

Keep in mind as well that in some cases, vaccines for adults are given in a series, and you need to have all of the shots in order to be protected. The pneumonia vaccine, for instance, is typically a series of two shots given one-year apart. Without the second booster shot, you won’t be fully protected against the illness.

No one loves getting shots. However, when you take an active role in your health and get vaccinated, you play an important role in maintaining public health as well. Talk with your healthcare provider during your next visit about any recommended vaccinations and roll up your sleeves and get the shots you need. It will only hurt for a minute, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’re protected against deadly diseases.