Vaccines Every Senior Needs


Most adults over 65 know they should get a flu shot every year but according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 30% of people in this age group took a pass on the vaccine in 2016. The flu shot isn’t the only recommended vaccine seniors missed. In recent years, about one-third of older adults skipped one or both vaccines for pneumonia and the majority of seniors are not current on shots for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.

As we age, the immune system becomes weaker which puts seniors at risk for getting certain diseases such as the flu, shingles, and pneumonia.  Advancing age also increases the risk of developing complications–some even life threatening–from these diseases.

The CDC recommends four vaccines for older adults. Talk to your doctor about your individual health issues and if these vaccines are right for you. Your doctor may recommend some additional vaccines depending on any medical conditions you have. Due to a weakened immune system, vaccine effectiveness is lower in older adults so there is no guarantee of complete protection. However, vaccines can significantly reduce your risk of getting sick or minimize complications if you do become ill. Generally most vaccines are covered by Medicare Parts A or D.


Four Vaccines for People Over 65

1. Flu Vaccine. Get an annual flu vaccine as soon as it is available in your area. People 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults. During most flu seasons, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe complications. For example, in the past few years, between 71 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older. And between 54 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group. Furthermore, seniors with a chronic disease, like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, are at higher risk for serious illness or death from the flu.

2. Pneumococcal Vaccine. Any person at any age can develop pneumonia, but people over 65 are at the greatest risk of serious complications. The pneumococcal vaccine is the best line of defense in preventing pneumonia–a specific type of lung infection that is caused by pneumococcus bacteria. The CDC recommends two doses–the first (Prevnar 13) at 65 and the second (Pneumovax 23) one year later. In a 2014 survey, the CDC states there were 423,000 emergency room visits due to a diagnosis of pneumonia and over 50,000 deaths in the general population with the majority in older adults.

3. Shingles Vaccine. The shingles vaccine is recommended for healthy adults over the age of 50 to prevent shingles–a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. For some people the pain can last for months or even years after the rash is gone. This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), and it is the most common complication of shingles. Your risk of shingles and PHN increases as you get older. The shingles vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51% and PHN by 67%. People who are allergic to particular components of the vaccine and those with weakened immune systems due to certain diseases and chronic conditions should not get the shingles shot.

4. Tdap Vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis). Every person should receive a one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine. Due to an increase in pertussis (whooping cough) the Tdap vaccine is crucial for people who are in close contact with infants. If you have already had a Tdap vaccine then you should get a Td booster every 10 years.


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