What you need to know about adult vaccinations

Published on May 15, 2019
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

“I’ve been taking my kids to get vaccinated since they were born, but I can’t really remember the last time I had one!”. This is something we hear parents say all too often. In fact, for some adults, it is just as important to continue getting vaccinated as it is for children. The flu, pneumonia, whooping cough…these are just a few things that you can protect yourself against. So, the questions for you are: When was the last time you were vaccinated? What was it for? And importantly—do YOU have an immunisation record?

Why you need to keep up-to-date

Just because you were vaccinated as a child, it doesn’t mean you are covered for potential serious infections that could cross you now as an adult. There are multiple reasons for this:

  1. Some vaccines do not give lifelong protection.
  2. Some vaccines, such as the flu (influenza) shot, need to be given every year. The flu virus changes all the time and the strains present in the northern hemisphere can be different to those in the southern hemisphere. To make sure you get the best protection possible, the vaccine needs to change to cover against current or newer strains of the virus.
  3. Some vaccines may only be recommended for adults, like shingles vaccines.
  4. You may not have received the full schedule of vaccines or some vaccines were not available to you as a child.
  5. You have certain risk factors that increase the chance of serious infections.
  6. You plan on travelling overseas.

Introducing: Boosters and Catch-Up vaccines

Boosters are an extra dose of vaccine that you have received before. This is because, over time, the level of protection given by some childhood vaccines can decline. Vaccines that need booster doses include diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccines.

Catch-up vaccines are given when you might not have received or completed the scheduled number of vaccinations as a child. These may include vaccines against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox (varicella) and hepatitis B. There are some differences between Australia and New Zealand, so please check with your GP.

Some of these are given for free under the National Immunisation Program, however some are not. Speak to your doctor about which vaccines you may need.

What groups of adults are more at risk?

We know that young children and adolescents may be more at risk of certain vaccine-preventable infections. Some adults can be more at risk too. They include:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Māori and Pacific peoples
  • People with certain medical conditions or immunocompromising conditions
  • Migrants/refugees
  • Pregnant women
  • People at workplace risk
  • People over 65 years old
  • International travelers

If you fall into any of these categories, you can read more information on risk groups here.

Is it free or will I have to pay for it?

The National Immunisation Program in Australia and the National Immunisation Schedule in New Zealand include some vaccines that are provided free of charge to the community. These can be given by your doctor.

Other vaccines may not be funded. You can choose to pay for these vaccines to provide additional protection.

Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss what vaccines you might need.

Do I need to keep a record of my immunisation history?

Yes—you should!

If you have children, you’ll notice that you can get a record of their immunisation history from the Immunisation Register. This is available online in Australia, or, via your local district health board (DHB) in New Zealand.

However, it’s not necessarily that easy for adults because the registers didn’t exist when you were a child. The good thing is, now, your doctor can submit your immunisations to the register. Please visit the links above to find out more.

When you are next at the GP’s office, ask them for your immunisation history AND ask them if you are due for any vaccines.

You can search for and download a mobile phone app that helps to record your immunisation history, or, keep a paper record.

If it has been a while since your last discussion with your doctor about immunisations, make sure you ask them at your next appointment. It is important to ensure ongoing protection against vaccine-preventable infections.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

References

  • 1. WHO | Seasonal influenza. Who.int. Published 2019. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 2. Immunisation for adults | Australian Government Department of Health. Published 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.
  • 3. Flu (influenza) immunisation service | Australian Government Department of Health. Accessed March 28, 2019.
  • 4. Immunisation throughout life | Australian Government Department of Health. Published 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.
  • 5. Immunisation Handbook 2017 | Ministry of Health New Zealand. Published 2018. Accessed April 5, 2019.
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