Vaccines that boost your immunity

The shots you got as a child can wear off. Here’s how to get up-to-date.

Published: February 2014

You might think that the shots you received as a child to protect you from getting tetanus, diptheria, and more would last a lifetime. Not so.

Some vaccines need to be repeated during adulthood to ensure that you stay protected, while others, such as the rubella vaccine and chicken pox shot, weren’t even around when many of us were young. There are also newer vaccines that target illnesses you might get as an adult, such as shingles. Here’s a rundown of what you should get and when.

Tetanus and diphtheria (TD)

What it wards off: Potentially fatal bacterial diseases that can make it difficult to breathe.

Who needs it: All adults should get a TD booster every 10 years, or sooner if you get a dirty wound and it has been more than five years since your last dose.

Shot options: Decavac, Tenivac, or a generic version.

Pertussis (Tdap)

What it wards off: In addition to tetanus and diphtheria, this version of the TD booster covers pertussis, or whooping cough, which has had a resurgence in the U.S. since the 1980s.

Who needs it: All adults 19 and older who haven't previously received a Tdap vaccine. (It can take the place of one TD booster.) Most adults need the shot just once, but pregnant women should get a dose during each pregnancy, preferably between weeks 27 and 28.

Shot options: Adacel and Boostrix. (The latter works better for adults 65 years and older.)

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)

What it wards off: Three potentially life-threatening viruses that are spread through the air.

Who needs it: Adults born in 1957 or later without documentation of vaccination, and those vaccinated before 1968 who received the inactivated (killed) measles vaccine, which was later withdrawn due to inefficacy.

Shot options: There is just one for adults, the MMR II.


What it wards off: Shingles, a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (the same one that causes chicken pox).

Who needs it: People age 60 and older, except those who are taking immunosuppressive drugs or have medical conditions that make their immune system less effective.

Shot options: Zostavax.


What it wards off: A bacterial in­fection that causes pneumonia and meningitis.

Who needs it: All adults age 65 and older, plus anyone 19 and older who smokes, is undergoing chemotherapy, or has asthma, diabetes, alcoholism, cochlear implants, conditions that compromise immunity, or heart, lung, or liver disease.

Shot options: Pneumovax, which is recommended for healthy adults, and Prevnar 13, generally recommended for higher-risk people because of its higher level of efficacy.


What it wards off: Chicken pox. The vaccine was licensed for use in the U.S. in 1995 and is now routinely given to all children.

Who needs it: People who never had chicken pox and haven’t already received the vaccine. They should get one or two doses depending on their age.

Shot options: There’s just one licensed for adults, Varivax.  

Where to get your boosters

Go to for health departments, clinics, and pharmacies in your area.  

Don't remember which vaccines you've had?

If you need official copies of your vaccination history or if you simply need to update your records, start with your doctors to see what they have on file. If your parents are living, ask if they have the records in baby books or files. Other possible sources include former employers (if they required immunizations) and your state's health department. (Some agencies have vaccination registries.) Find out more from the nonprofit Immunization Action Coaltion.  

If you can't find your records, your doctor might opt for blood tests to see if you're immune to any vaccine-preventable diseases. Or she'll just give you the shot. It's safe to repeat vaccines, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Editor's Note:

This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

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