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Do You Know Your Vaccine History?

If you’re unsure, we tell you where those records may be found


spinner image close up of doctor's hand filling out a vaccine card while wearing medical gloves
skaman306 / Getty Images

From polio, monkeypox and COVID-19 to shingles and the flu, you may be scratching your head to recall if you and your family members are up to date on your vaccinations. Unfortunately, there isn’t a national organization that maintains these records — but there are various places you can look.

If you are looking for records of your childhood immunizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests asking family members for your vaccine history or checking baby books or other saved documents. Some doctor’s offices hold on to this information, but most don’t save files from decades ago.

For more recent immunizations — such as COVID-19, the flu or shingles — ask for the record from the place you got the shot, whether that is a doctor, pharmacist or health clinic.

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Many health providers participate in immunization information systems. These confidential, population-based, computerized databases record all immunization doses administered by participating providers to people residing within a given area.

State health departments may also have immunization records. In most states, you can request your record online. For example, in Colorado you can request your or your child’s immunization record through a portal on the state’s website.

Some states still require a written letter or fax. For example, Alaska requires you to mail or fax a request form for your immunization records, accompanied by a copy of an identifying document such as a state-issued photo driver’s license with address, a state-issued photo identification card with address, or a U.S. passport or passport card with photo.

Several states have also made the records available through an app. STChealth CEO Mike Popovich said in a statement that the company’s MyIR Mobile application has seen its greatest growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is available in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, Washington and West Virginia. If you live in one of those places, you can access your records by signing up through the app.

Adult immunizations

For older adults, the CDC recommends:

  • flu shot, either influenza inactivated (IIV4) or influenza recombinant (RIV4), annually
  • Tdap booster shot every 10 years
  • zoster vaccine against shingles after you turn 50
  • pneumococcal vaccine against the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae after you turn 65
  • COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters as they develop

Since the pandemic began, most state health departments have collected COVID-19 vaccination records. Individuals can often request those personal records online or through an app. These programs are relatively new, so they won’t likely have collected information on other immunizations. If you’ve lost your COVID-19 card, this AARP article tells you what to do.

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Childhood immunizations

Chances are that you were vaccinated as a child for a range of diseases. Most states have long-standing mandates for these childhood vaccines:

  • Polio. The vaccine protects against poliomyelitis, a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus.
  • Varicella. A vaccine against chickenpox.
  • DTP, DTap or DT. A combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw) and whooping cough (also known as pertussis).
  • MMR. A combination vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.

The CDC estimates that at least 93 percent of U.S. kindergartners had received these vaccines for the 2020–21 school year. There are medical exemptions and, in some cases, religious or personal belief exemptions. 

Since the late 1990s, most schoolchildren have also been required to receive an HBV or HepB vaccination that protects against hepatitis B.

Polio reemerges

No cases of polio had originated in the United States since 1979 until this July, when a 20-year-old man from Rockland County, New York, was diagnosed with the disabling and potentially deadly disease, according to the CDC. The virus has since been found in wastewater in New York City and several neighboring counties, raising concerns the disease could again spread among unvaccinated people.

If you are worried about polio and uncertain of your vaccination status, the CDC says it’s safe to go ahead and get the shots now but suggests you consult your doctor, who may recommend antibody tests to determine whether you’ve been vaccinated already.

Monkeypox

U.S. health officials have declared the current outbreak of monkeypox a public health emergency. They are also working to meet a growing demand for smallpox vaccines that also protect against this disease.

Routine smallpox vaccination stopped in the U.S. in 1972 after the disease was eradicated, but many older adults remember receiving a shot. It’s unclear how well a vaccine given so long ago protects you today, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. For example, The Lancet recently reported that a share of people who were vaccinated for smallpox when they were children went on to develop monkeypox.

People who are most likely to get monkeypox should get the vaccine, the CDC says, though this advice could change as supplies increase. And even though anyone can get monkeypox, the vast majority of individuals who are getting infected now are men who are having sex with men and with multiple partners in areas where the virus is spreading, health experts say.

Risks are much lower for people in monogamous relationships.

Military vaccinations

Gulf War veterans may have also been vaccinated against smallpox before deployment. From Dec. 13, 2002, through May 28, 2003, a total of 450,293 military personnel were vaccinated against smallpox as part of a national program of preparedness against biological attack, according to a study published in JAMA.

Gulf War veterans may also have been vaccinated against the following diseases: anthrax, botulism, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis B, meningitis, whooping cough, polio and tetanus.

Veterans can request their military medical records through the Tricare system.

 

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