A to Z Health Guide

Which Vaccinations Do I Need?

A Guide for Adults with Kidney Disease, Kidney Failure, or a Kidney Transplant

Why do I need a vaccination?

Vaccines help keep you from getting a serious disease. They protect you from many common diseases, like the flu, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B and pneumonia. Many of these diseases can make you very sick and cause death. People with these diseases can pass them along and make others around them sick, so vaccines can also help protect others. Some people have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from these diseases, especially elderly people, children, and people with chronic illnesses including those on dialysis.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines are usually given as a shot (an injection with a small needle). They protect you by helping your body's immune system "prepare" for a real infection. To do this, vaccines contain parts of a dead or weakened germ. Once you get the shot, your body produces antibodies, which help your body find and kill these germs. Should you come in contact with the real germ, these antibodies will work to protect you. Some vaccines need a booster shot to help your body's immune system make enough antibodies. This is why some vaccines might need one shot, while others need more than one shot. In some cases, a blood test is used to make sure there are enough antibodies for protection.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are among the safest therapies available. They have protected millions of people from serious disease.

As with any medication, there are some possible side effects. Some people could feel minor discomfort. There could be some soreness or a mild rash on the skin where the shot was given. Others might get a slight fever. However, these mild effects are normal and should not cause alarm.

There are some people who should not receive vaccines, including those allergic to vaccines, or people with an overactive immune system. Also, women who are pregnant, people with a kidney transplant, or those with a less active immune system should not receive certain vaccines.

As with any medicine, there is a very small risk that serious problems could occur. But the possible harm from vaccines is very small. The possible harm from infection is much greater. Talk with a healthcare provider about any questions or concerns you may have.

Which vaccinations do I need?

Your healthcare provider is the best person to ask about which vaccinations you should get. Because you have kidney disease, you may be at higher risk for getting certain illnesses. Or you may need a different form of the vaccine. Certain vaccines should not be given to women who are pregnant, people with a kidney transplant, or those with a less active immune system.

If I have a transplant, which vaccines should I avoid?

Vaccines work with the body's immune system. If the immune system does not work properly, the vaccine may not work or may even cause harm. Because transplant recipients use medications that affect the immune system, it is important to understand which vaccines you should and should not have. Most vaccines fall into two categories: inactive or live. Inactive vaccines are considered safe for transplant recipients, but live vaccines should be avoided. In general, if you have a transplant, you should avoid:

  • Influenza nasal (Flu Mist). The flu shot that is injected is an inactive vaccine, unlike the nasal mist noted here.
  • Chicken-pox (varicella)
  • Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
  • Yellow Fever

How often do I need a vaccination?

Depending on the vaccine, you may need only one shot to protect you for life. Other vaccines may require booster shots or a series of shots. Some vaccines are needed only if you travel to a place where you are likely to contract a disease that is common to that area. (See chart below for a list of vaccinations commonly recommended for adults with kidney disease.)

Where do I get my vaccinations?

First, talk with your healthcare provider to find out which vaccines you need. They can be given by your healthcare provider or through your public health department or a pharmacy. Local health agencies and hospitals often conduct clinics during the year to provide vaccinations.

How much do these shots cost?

The cost of these vaccines varies. They may be covered by your insurance. Local health departments may provide them free-of-charge or at a lower cost. Remember, flu, pneumococcal and hepatitis B vaccines are paid for by Medicare Part B. Shingles and Tdap vaccines are covered if you've elected to have Medicare Part D benefits.

What if I have more questions?

If you have additional questions about vaccinations, talk to your healthcare provider.

Vaccinations Recommended for Adults With Kidney Disease, Kidney Failure, or a Kidney Transplant
Vaccines Post-Transplant Kidney Disease and Dialysis
Chickenpox (varicella) DO NOT USE Recommended, 1 dose
Flu (influenza) Recommended, 1 dose every year Recommended, 1 dose eary year
Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) Recommended, 1 or 3 doses Recommended, 1 or 3 doses
Hepatitis A ((HAV) Recommended, 2 doses Recommended, 2 doses
Hepatitis B (HBV) Recommended, 3 doses Recommended, 3 doses
Herpes Zoster (shingles) DO NOT USE Recommended (age 60 and older), 1 dose only
Persons on immunosuppressive therapy should not receive the shingles vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV) Recommended (females up to age 26, males up to age 21), 3 doses Recommended (females up to age 26, males up to age 21), 3 doses
Meningitis (meningococcus)** Use if needed, 1 or more doses Use if needed, 1 or more doses
Measles,mumps, and rubella (MMR) DO NOT USE Recommended, 1 or 2 doses if you were born in 1957 or after and have not gotten this vaccine, or do not have immunity
Pneumonia (pneumococcal) Recommended, ask your healthcare provider about the timing and spacing Recommended, ask your healthcare provider about the timing and spacing
Tetanus, Diphtheria-acellular Pertussis (whooping cough) Recommended 1-time dose of Tdap, then Td booster every 10 years Recommended 1-time dose of Tdap, then Td booster every 10 years

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CKD)

**Recommended if some other risk factor is present; for example, on the basis of medical, job-related, lifestyle, or other reasons.

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© 2016 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.

Date Reviewed: 
July 27, 2016

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.