5 Vaccines Recommended for Adults Age 65 and Older

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woman in white coat and mask giving older woman a shot

Vaccines are an important step in protecting your health and the health of your family. Vaccines are particularly important for older adults. Risks to certain diseases are higher for this age group since it can be more difficult to fight off infections as your immune system naturally weakens as you get older.

These infections, such as flu, pneumonia, shingles, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and COVID-19, increase your risk for complications, which can lead to long-term illness and hospitalization.

There are five vaccines adults age 65 and older should consider to prevent certain diseases:

  • Influenza (flu) vaccine
  • Pneumonia vaccine
  • Shingles vaccine
  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine 
  • COVID-19 vaccine

Influenza (Flu)

The influenza (flu) vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older every year, starting in the fall. Influenza is a respiratory virus. Getting the vaccine decreases your risk for developing complications from the flu, such as sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues, multi-organ failure or sepsis.

There are two vaccines that are particular for those age 65 and older because they create a stronger immune response: high-dose flu vaccine and an adjuvanted flu vaccine. You can get either of these vaccines in your health care provider’s office.

Pneumonia

The pneumonia vaccine is recommended as a one-time vaccine for people ages 65 and older.

Pneumonia is caused by a bacteria or virus that infects the lungs. The vaccine is 60 percent to 70 percent effective in preventing invasive disease. You can get this vaccine in your health care provider’s office.

Shingles

The shingles vaccine is recommended for people age 50 and older even if you had shingles in the past or had the previous shingles vaccine. It is a two-shot series, in which the second shot is given two to six months after the first shot.

Shingles is a viral infection. The chicken pox virus remains inactive in your nerve tissue and can reactivate as shingles, causing a painful, blistery rash on one side of the body. Shingles can also cause postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which causes severe and debilitating pain where the rash occurred. The vaccine is greater than 90 percent effective in preventing shingles and PHN. Supplies of this vaccine may be limited. Ask your health care provider or a pharmacy about vaccine availability.

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap)

The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine combined (Tdap) is recommended if you have not received a tetanus shot in the last 10 years or have only had the tetanus and diphtheria combined (Td) vaccine and not the Tdap in the past.

Tetanus is caused by a bacteria in soil, dirt and manure and can impair the nervous system. Diphtheria is caused by a bacteria that attaches to the lining of the respiratory system, which causes difficulty breathing and swallowing and can get into the bloodstream and damage the heart, kidneys and nerves. Pertussis (whooping cough) can be a very serious disease, especially for vulnerable populations, such as infants, young children and older adults. Pertussis causes coughing fits due to the bacteria attaching to the lining of the upper respiratory system.

The vaccine is greater than 95 percent effective in preventing tetanus and diphtheria and 70 percent effective in preventing pertussis. You can get this vaccine from your health care provider.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for ages 12 and older. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, so this is why the Centers for Disease Control recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for older adults too. The COVID-19 vaccine helps prevent severe illness.

It typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build immunity against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. You are not fully vaccinated until two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks after a one-dose vaccine. The two-dose vaccines are 94 percent to 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. The one-dose vaccine is 66 percent effective. You can receive this vaccine from a vaccination clinic set up expressly for this purpose or at a pharmacy.

Vaccines Help Maintain Your Health

Vaccines have minimal risks and are generally very safe. Even healthy people need vaccines. Ask your health care provider about these vaccines at your next appointment to determine what is best for your preventative health.

Michelle Twombly, CNP, is a certified nurse practitioner at UH Family Medicine Center in Strongsville.

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At University Hospitals, we believe having a primary care provider is essential to your health and well-being. Our primary care physicians and nurse practitioners provide comprehensive, compassionate and continuous primary care for patients of all ages. We are committed to building a healthy relationship with you and your family to detect and minimize long-term health issues, or just help you get over that illness that's going around. Need a primary care provider? Find one here.

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