Get the Basics: Essential Vaccines for Older Adults

Getting vaccines to protect you from illness is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. Vaccines are often injections, sometimes called “shots.”

Vaccines are very safe. Vaccines can have side effects, but for most people, it is more dangerous to risk getting sick. If you have concerns about vaccine side effects or safety, speak to your healthcare provider.

To get your vaccines, you can contact your healthcare provider. You can also ask your local health department for more information on where to get these vaccines. You also may be able to get vaccines at your local neighborhood pharmacy.   

There is a government agency called the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). The CDC recommends the following vaccines for most older adults.

COVID-19 Vaccine

What it does: Protects against getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

Who needs it: Everyone older than 6 months should be up to date with the COVID-19 vaccine.  

When to get it: All adults should be up to date on COVID-19 vaccines. You are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine if you have had your primary series of COVID-19 shots and a bivalent (updated) booster.

The timing of the primary series and booster can be different based on your age, the type of vaccine you get, or if you are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system).  Your healthcare provider will let you know which doses you should get and when.

There are four vaccines used in the United States to prevent COVID-19.  Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax are the vaccines that the CDC recommends. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not recommended in most situations.

Influenza (Flu) Vaccine

What it does: Protects against serious illness from yearly flu viruses.

Who needs it: All older adults should get a flu vaccine. People with certain conditions should especially get a flu vaccine, since they are at higher risk for serious side effects from the flu. These groups of people include:

  • People 65 years old or older
  • Nursing home residents
  • People with serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, lung disease, or HIV.
  • Caregivers for older adults. This helps them avoid spreading the flu.  There are flu vaccines that are specifically for people 65 or older. The CDC recommends that people 65 or older receive any of the flu vaccines specifically for older adults.

You should not get the flu vaccine if you have had an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. You should also not get a flu vaccine if you have been diagnosed with Guillian-Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks after previously receiving the flu vaccine.

When to get it: New strains of the flu develop all the time. Because of this, you should get the flu vaccine every year. You should get your flu vaccine in the fall.

Pneumococcal (Pneumonia) Vaccine

What it does: Protects against serious illness caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause pneumonia (a serious infection in the lungs) and infections of the blood and brain.

Who needs it: Anyone 65 years or older.

When to get it: There are two kinds of pneumococcal vaccines available: Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV13, PCV15, or PCV20) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23).

Ask your healthcare provider which vaccine is best for you.

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccine

What it does: Protects you from getting shingles. This vaccine is called Shingrix. It is very effective in reducing the risk of shingles for older adults. It also protects people from developing a side effect that causes chronic pain (called postherpetic neuralgia).

Who needs it: The CDC recommends that people 50 years and older get the Shingrix vaccine. You should get the shingles vaccine even if you have had shingles before. There also is an older shingles vaccine called Zostavax. You should get a Shingrix shot even if you have had a Zostavax shot previously.

You should not get a Shingrix vaccine if you have had an allergic reaction to any of its ingredients before. You should also not get the vaccine if you currently have shingles. Wait until your symptoms are gone before getting the shingles shot.

When to get it: Shingrix requires two doses. The second dose should be given between 2-6 months after the first dose. If it has been longer than 6 months since the first dose, it’s okay to get the second dose at any time.

Tetanus/Diphtheria Vaccine

What it does: There are two types of vaccine that protect you from two potentially deadly bacterial infections. One type is called TD. TD protects you from the diseases tetanus and diphtheria. The second type is called Tdap. Tdap protects you from tetanus, diphtheria, and another disease named pertussis (also called “whooping cough”).

Who needs it: Everyone. You should get a one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine if you are 65 or older and have not had the Tdap vaccine previously. This will help protect you and your grandchildren from whooping cough.

When to get it: Once every 10 years.

Other Vaccines for Older Adults

The CDC also recommends other vaccines for older adults. These include the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, and vaccines for varicella, hepatitis A and B, and meningococcal disease. You could have a higher risk of getting these diseases if you have certain health problems, occupations, or lifestyles. Ask your healthcare provider if you should get any of these additional vaccines.

For additional information, visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

 

Last Updated September 2022