New Vaccines for Adults: Which Do You Need?

BOSTON -- Most adults are not up to date on their vaccinations, says a new report from HarvardMedicalSchool. The report, “Viruses and Infectious Diseases,” describes how fast-adapting viruses pose an advancing threat to human health and urges adults to seek out new vaccines and renew their old ones.

The new report explains how viruses and other infections affect the body, and what adults should do to protect themselves. It warns adults not to assume that the vaccines they received as children will protect them for life. Here are some of the reasons adults need vaccination:

• Some adults were never vaccinated as children.

• Newer vaccines were not available when today’s adults were children.

• Immunity can begin to fade over time.

• As you age, you become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections.

• You may travel to areas where infectious diseases that are rare where you live are much more common.

• You may come in contact with people who have been exposed to unusual infectious diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is understandably cautious and very demanding before it will license a new vaccine, but it has recently licensed several vaccines against important infectious agents: HPV (human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer), varicella-zoster virus (which causes chickenpox and shingles), and meningococcus (which causes bacterial meningitis). The FDA has also approved a preliminary bird flu vaccine to keep stockpiled in case of a bird flu pandemic.

“Viruses and Infectious Diseases,” a 49-page special health report edited by Michael N. Starnbach, PhD, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, also covers such topics as:

• Infectious disease in the 21st century

• Transmission of infectious disease

• Common and not-so-common viruses

“Viruses and Infectious Diseases” is available for $18 from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School. Order it online at or by calling toll-free at (877) 649–9457.