Vaccines for healthy adults

Vaccine-preventable diseases are still causing deaths in Australia. Outbreaks of whooping cough and measles are frequently seen, putting our infants at risk of death and brain damage. These outbreaks could be reduced if more adults were vaccinated. However, with so many vaccines available, it can be difficult to know which ones you should be getting. To help get on top of your vaccines, this article outlines the vaccines you should have if you’re a healthy adult between 18 and 65 years old. Some adults may be recommended to receive certain vaccinations if they are at increased risk of disease due to factors such as age, occupation, personal behaviours or medical conditions.

Please see our other articles for more info about vaccines for travel and the elderly.

How do I know if I had my childhood vaccinations?

Children born in Australia receive vaccinations under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule which covers measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), human papillomavirus (HPV), polio, haemophilus influenza B, rotavirus and pneumococcal and meningococcal disease.

There are a number of places  where you may be able to find your vaccination records:

  • The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) for people born since 1989. The AIR is an expansion of the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register.
  • Your child health record. In WA, this was the ‘Yellow Book’ until 2006. It is now the ‘Purple Book’!
  • The local immunisation service where you had your vaccinations.
  • Your GP currently or when you were a child.

If you are not sure whether you received your childhood vaccinations, see your GP to discuss your immunisation requirements.

Influenza (the flu)

Common symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, body aches, cough, sore throat, and runny nose, but it can also cause serious complications.

A yearly influenza vaccination is recommended for all adults as it is the most effective method of preventing its spread. Having the vaccination reduces your risk of becoming sick with the flu, although it does not guarantee that you will not get the flu. This is because influenza viruses are constantly changing. While the vaccine is updated each year, it is not always perfectly ‘matched’ to the viruses that are circulating in the community. This is also why you should have the vaccine every year.

You can get your flu vaccine at your local GP or health clinic, or at some pharmacies. The brand of vaccine you are given is age dependent and is free for eligible people under the National Immunisation Program. Otherwise, the cost of the consultation and vaccine varies between providers.

James Gathany, CDC Public Health Image library ID 11162, public domain.

Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)

If you were born in 1966 or later, you should check that you have received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. If you have not, or you are not sure, you should have the vaccine in order to protect yourself against infection, and prevent transmission of these viruses to other unvaccinated individuals. These infections can have serious consequences, especially for an infant or a pregnant mother who becomes infected.

People born before 1966 are likely to have immunity from natural infection. It is possible to check if you are protected against these viruses with a blood test.

Varicella (chickenpox)

 Immunity against varicella results from prior infection or vaccination against varicella. People who are not immune should have the vaccination to protect against infection. As with MMR, you can have a blood test to check if you are immune.

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP)

Booster doses of the DTP vaccine are recommended at age 50, and after the age of 65, if it has not been given in the previous 10 years.

Pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness and can be fatal, especially in unvaccinated infants. For this reason, a DTP booster is strongly recommended for pregnant women in their third trimester and for people who are in close contact with infants less than 6 months old.

A booster tetanus vaccine may be given as part of the management of a tetanus-prone wound. Seek medical advice for injuries or wounds.

If you have never had any DTP vaccines, you will require a course of 3 doses of the vaccine to become protected.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse. The HPV vaccine is now given to boys and girls in early high school and protects against cervical, anal, head and neck cancers, as well as a few others.

It may be beneficial to have the HPV vaccine as an adult at least up to their mid-to-late 20s. This depends on how likely it is that you have already been exposed to HPV, and how likely it is that you will be exposed to HPV in the future.

At risk populations

Migrants. If you are migrant or refugee, check with your doctor about adequate immunity against diseases for which vaccination is recommended in Australia and the catch-up vaccination schedule.

Travelers. If you are planning to travel overseas, you may need additional vaccinations such as hepatitis A, yellow fever and rabies vaccinations. See your doctor and our article on travel vaccinations for more information.

Elderly. If you are over 65 years of age, you may need additional vaccinations due to a progressive decline in the immune system. See your doctor and our article on elderly vaccinations for more information.

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. You may need additional vaccinations. See your doctor for more information.

Summary

Adults should have an annual influenza vaccination and check their immunity against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); varicella (chickenpox); and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP). It is particularly important to be vaccinated for whooping cough (pertussis) if caring for young children less than 6 months of age.

 

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