Shreya Desai, MD is a board-certified primary care physician practicing family medicine at Inova Primary Care – Sterling. She believes in patient-centered care and has a special interest in preventive care and women’s health.
When it comes to your health, prevention is the best cure. And vaccinations offer an easy way to practice prevention. But once childhood vaccinations are complete, the recommendations for teens and adults aren’t always easy to navigate — especially as new vaccines become available.
The good news is that seeing your primary care provider (PCP) yearly for a physical exam can help you stay on track. And if you know what to expect, you’ll be able to ask about the vaccinations you need — especially if you’ve been playing catch-up since the pandemic.
Why Vaccines and Boosters Are Important
Vaccinations reduce the threat of dangerous infections — viruses that once caused outbreaks rarely cause issues today. But that doesn’t mean those infections don’t still exist. Unvaccinated people risk getting vaccine-preventable diseases and more common afflictions such as seasonal flu, COVID-19 and cancer.
But over time, the immunity provided by vaccines fades. Booster shots help maintain the vital protection provided by the initial vaccination. Boosters are especially important as we age, and our immune system naturally weakens.
Understanding Your Vaccination Status
Your vaccination status is an ongoing record of the vaccines you’ve received in your lifetime. To compile your vaccination status, you may need to track down information from your parents or caregivers, previous doctor’s offices or the schools you attended.
Once your PCP has all your vaccination records, they can develop a vaccination schedule and let you know which vaccinations you need during your annual exam. People over 65 can also expect a vaccine check as part of the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit.
Handling New and Changing Recommendations: COVID-19 and Monkeypox Vaccines
COVID-19 and the monkeypox virus have spotlighted vaccine development and recommendations. As novel viruses and variants emerge, health experts develop vaccines to combat the spread. But new information often means changing recommendations that can be hard to follow.
The first step in protecting yourself from new viruses is talking to your PCP. They’ll use your health history and vaccination status to determine whether new vaccines or boosters are appropriate for you.
Vaccines for Teenagers and Preteens
The vaccination schedule may slow after early childhood. But kids ages 11 to 18 still receive immunizations during some of their annual exams, including the seasonal flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is available during the fall and winter months — you may need a separate appointment if your exam doesn’t fall within that window.
This age is also an excellent time to consult your PCP about missed childhood vaccinations. They can create a catch-up schedule to keep teens on track.
Preteens 11 to 12
In addition to the seasonal flu vaccine, preteens can expect to receive the following:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents cancer-causing infections and cervical precancers. Two doses of the vaccine are given 6 to 12 months apart, starting as early as age 9.
- Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) protects teens from four strains of bacteria that cause serious infections like meningitis.
- Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (Tdap) boosts the immunity provided by the Dtap series of shots received as a child.
Teenagers 13 to 18
Teens may receive vaccinations for:
- HPV, if they did not complete the series as a preteen
- MenACWY, given as a booster at the age of 16
- Serogroup B Meningococcal (MenB), available to teens age 16 to 18 who have chronic health conditions or exposure to a meningitis outbreak.
Vaccinations for Adults
Adults need immunizations to stay protected as they get older — and all adults should get the seasonal flu shot each year. Even adults with functioning immune systems can get complications from the flu.
Adults 19 to 49
Adults in this age group should get the flu shot each year and may also receive:
- HPV vaccination, offered up to age 26 to people who didn’t get the vaccine as a teen. Adults aged 27 to 45 who wish to get the vaccine should discuss it with their provider.
- Td booster, given once every 10 years following the preteen Tdap vaccination. Adults who never receive an initial Tdap vaccine can get the shot and continue getting a booster each decade.
Adults 50 and Older
With age, the immune system becomes slower to respond and less likely to detect cell dysfunction, making vaccinations especially vital. People in this age group should receive:
- COVID 2nd booster, indicated only for adults over 50 who received their first booster at least four months earlier.
- Pneumococcal vaccine, given to adults over 65 to protect the lungs and bloodstream against infections.
- Td booster, given every 10 years.
- Zoster vaccine, to protect against the shingles virus.
Adults With Special Considerations
If you have a weakened immune system or a specific health condition, discuss your vaccination schedule with your PCP. You may need additional immunization depending on your age, health status and lifestyle.
Pregnant people should consult with their provider about the vaccinations they need. But most pregnant people receive:
- Tdap vaccination (not a booster) is given between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy. It passes antibodies to the baby before birth for protection against whooping cough.
- Seasonal flu vaccine protects the pregnant parent (who has a higher risk of flu-related complications) and provides a couple of months of immunity for the baby after birth.