Do You Need A Vaccine Booster?

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It seems every week there’s news of a new disease outbreak. Even previously eradicated diseases, such as measles and mumps, are appearing across the country with alarming frequency. Why the sudden spike?

“It’s a combination of factors,” says Allison Weinman, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Henry Ford Health System. “Some children are under-vaccinated. Others aren’t vaccinated at all. Plus, a number of people are coming to the United States from countries where vaccination isn’t standard practice.”

When diseases re-emerge, the greatest concerns are typically over children who are too young to be vaccinated, but adults may be at risk too.

Adult Vaccinations: A Go-to-Guide

Getting immunized is one of the simplest ways to protect your health. Made from dead or weakened versions of the target bacteria or viruses, vaccinations prime the body to mount an attack against invaders. They coax the body to produce antibodies, so that when the person is exposed to the illness, the body can fight back more effectively.

Side effects are usually mild (like soreness or redness at the injection site) and they typically go away within a few days. Yet, every year, thousands of Americans become sick, are hospitalized and even die from diseases a vaccine can prevent.

To keep yourself and your family safe, follow these three strategies:

  1. Vaccinate your children: Getting your children vaccinated not only helps prevent them from contracting dangerous and deadly diseases, but it also improves public health. People who cannot get some vaccines rely on the public getting vaccinated to produce something called “herd immunity.” This population includes infants with underdeveloped immune systems and people whose immune systems are weak due to a chronic disease such as cancer or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). “When most of the population is vaccinated, the chance of vulnerable people being exposed to an infectious disease is greatly reduced,” Dr. Weinmann says. But even patients with immune-compromising conditions can often safely receive vaccines. If you fall into that category, consult with your health care provider.
  2. Pay attention to the news: You should be aware of local outbreaks of diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and even whooping cough (pertussis). In those high-risk circumstances, it’s important to visit your doctor to be sure you and your family are up-to-date on your immunizations. You should also ask whether you need additional vaccinations or other protections. Travelers should consult with their doctor a minimum of a month prior to departure.
  3. Stay up to date: Adults don’t require as many vaccines as children, but if you’re not current on your vaccines, you could develop dangerous illnesses and pass them on to children. Take whooping cough, for example. “Children who may be too young to be immunized, or those are under-immunized, often get whooping cough from unvaccinated adults, sometimes with devastating outcomes,” Dr. Weinmann says. Review the CDC’s recommendations for adult vaccines and make sure you’re up to date with the following vaccines:
    • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis): Once for all adults who haven’t previously received it, and for women with every pregnancy
    • Td (tetanus and diphtheria): Once every 10 years
    • Seasonal flu: Once every year
    • Shingles (herpes zoster): Recommended for adults over age 50
    • Pneumococcal disease: Two vaccines for adults 65 and older

Do You Need a Booster?

Kids aren’t the only group that needs vaccines. The protection vaccines provide can wane over time, so adults may need boosters. As far as boosters go, MMR seems to be the top concern. Can’t remember if you’ve had all of your vaccines? Not many people over the age of 45 can. The good news: It may not matter — unless there’s an outbreak.

Most adults don’t need a booster of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR. People who were born before 1957 are likely immune because of previous exposure to the actual virus. Adults who can produce documentation indicating they’ve received two doses of the MMR vaccine are also deemed safe.

Don’t have the paperwork? “Ask your doctor to test your blood for antibodies against the diseases or just ask to be vaccinated,” Dr. Weinmann says.

According to the CDC, one high-risk group includes people born between 1963 and 1967. If you fall within that category, you may have received a killed version of the virus, which often doesn’t provide lasting immunity.


To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). Want more advice from Henry Ford experts? Subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips and recipes.

Dr. Allison Weinmann specializes in infectious diseases and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Categories: FeelWell