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Vaccines Aren't Just for Kids

A guide to vaccinations men and women over 50 need

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MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella)

Who should get it: Adults 50 and older who are unsure of their immunization status.

The guidelines: Generally, says Poland, adults 50 and older have either been exposed to these diseases or received a vaccination in childhood. However, adults who are unsure about their immunization history should receive the MMR shot.

What to consider: A blood test can tell whether someone has had any of these diseases or has received the MMR vaccine, says Poland, but each test costs approximately $100. If you're unsure about your immunity, getting a booster shot is more cost-effective (approximately $35 per shot and likely to be covered by insurance) and isn't harmful, even if you're already immune, he says.

Hepatitis A vaccine

Who should get it: Adults age 50 and older with certain risks, including same-sex male partners and illicit injectable drug use. Also, those who have chronic liver disease, who have close contact with a hepatitis A-infected individual or who travel to areas with a high incidence of hepatitis A should receive the shot.

The guidelines: Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

What to consider: Parents or grandparents of children being adopted from countries with a high rate of hepatitis A should be vaccinated, Poland says.

Hepatitis B vaccine

Who should get it: Adults 50 and older who are on dialysis, who have renal disease or liver disease, who are sexually active with more than one partner, or who have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV. Health care workers or those who have close contact with a hepatitis B-infected individual should also be vaccinated.

The guidelines: Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

What to consider: If you're unsure of your immunization status—maybe you got the first two shots in the normally three-dose series—getting a booster is a good idea, says Mawhorter.

Meningitis vaccine

Who should get it: Adults 50 and older who were never vaccinated or who have certain risk factors.

The guidelines: Adults 55 and younger who have never been vaccinated should receive the meningococcal conjugatevaccine, which offers lifelong immunity, says Poland. Adults 56 and older should receive the polysaccharide vaccine, which offers approximately three to five years of immunity, he says.

What to consider: If you travel to at-risk regions, have had your spleen removed or have certain blood deficiencies, speak with your doctor about whether you should receive this vaccine.

Things to consider: Although not all vaccines are recommended for everyone, both Poland and Mawhorter stress the importance of making sure you're up to date on your immunizations—especially if you care for an ill spouse or family member, or have young grandchildren.

"I can't adequately convey the heart-breaking tragedies I've seen," says Poland, adding that he's seen grandparents unwittingly infect a young child with influenza, varicella or pertussis.

If you're unsure of your immunization status, he says, simply tell your doctor during your next visit, and together you can decide if you need to be vaccinated.

Dara Chadwick writes frequently about health and wellness.

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