Vaccines for Young Adults

Vaccines for Young Adults

You’re young. Healthy. Active. With years of life ahead of you. You’re bulletproof, right? When you’re young, it’s easy to think you’re safe from a lot of the stuff that can trip you up — including illness.

Maybe you think you don’t need to get an annual flu shot or the other vaccines recommended for adults. Maybe you hate needles and are afraid to get a shot. Whatever the hold-up, hopefully you’ll come to realize that sometimes you’ve gotta bite the bullet and endure a few seconds of discomfort to safeguard your health and the health of the people you love.

Sure, there’s nothing exciting about getting shots except the exciting adventures that can only happen when you are healthy! 

Vaccines not only protect your health, they protect the health of anyone you come in contact with (family, friends, peers, co-workers, roommates, etc.). While a vaccine-preventable disease might keep you in bed for a few days before you recover, that same disease could be deadly for young children and older adults.

It's true we get most of our shots when we’re very young, but there are some shots we need to get as young adults.

Which Vaccines Do I Need?

Here are the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for young adults 19 to 26 years old.

Tdap vaccine. Lockjaw, nose and throat infections, and whooping cough are no fun. A Tdap shot protects you from these serious diseases (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). You should get a tetanus/diphtheria (Td) vaccine booster every 10 years after your Tdap shot.

Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Once well controlled with vaccines, cases of measles and mumps are now on the rise. Outbreaks have even been reported on college campuses. To protect yourself from these very contagious and potentially serious viruses (along with rubella), get the MMR vaccine. One to two doses of MMR are usually given to young children, but if you didn’t get them as a child, talk to your doctor about getting it now.

HPV vaccine. If there was a shot that could prevent cancer, there's a strong likelihood you'd get it, right? Well, the HPV vaccine protects you from certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. HPV can lead to a long list of health issues — genital warts, as well as cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis and anus. If you didn’t start the HPV vaccine series (three shots) when you were 11 or 12, you should be vaccinated before you are 27 (if you are female) and before you are 22 (if you are male). Guys between the ages of 22 and 26, who have not gotten the shots before, should talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated.

Seasonal flu vaccine. You might be able to fight off the flu within a few days, but your grandparents and other people with a weakened immune system you come in contact with may not be so fortunate. The flu can lead to complications such as bronchitis, sinus infections and pneumonia — which could be life-threatening for older adults. The CDC recommends that everyone over six months old get a flu vaccine each flu season.

COVID-19 vaccine. The public health emergency measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted in May 2023. Since then, recommendations for the COVID-19 vaccine have changed. The CDC has updated their recommendations based on an individual’s age, health status, the number of previous doses they’ve received and which vaccine product was used. See the CDC’s most recent recommendations leaving site icon for up-to-date guidance about the COVID-19 vaccine, or speak with your doctor.

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine. It may be wordy, but this vaccine is effective. It protects against bacterial meningitis, an infection that causes the membranes surrounding the brain and spine to swell. If you haven’t received this vaccine, do so — especially if you’re going into your freshman year at college and plan on living in close quarters like the dorms.

Are you missing one or more of the vaccines on this list? If so, call your doctor and make an appointment to be vaccinated — especially if you’re going away to school soon. Bring this list to your appointment and talk with your doctor about which vaccines you may need.

Sources: Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule for Ages 19 Years or Older, United States  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; COVID-19 Vaccine Immunization Schedule Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023

Originally published 8/17/2015; Revised 2021, 2023