Be Healthy Information

Immunizations for Older Adults

Vaccines are important for health at all stages of life. They are of special value to older adults. This is because the immune system weakens with age, no matter how healthy you may be. This makes it harder to fight off disease and infections. As you get older, you are more at risk for health concerns such as the flu and pneumonia. A health issue that may have been fended off by a younger person can become a long-term or serious problem. A complication or a stay in the hospital is more likely. If you have a health issue such as high blood sugar, it’s even more important to take care of yourself in the best way you can. 

A great way to protect yourself from some health issues is to get vaccinated. Vaccines can protect you from certain illnesses and their complications and help you enjoy good health as you age.

What does a vaccination do? 

Vaccines act in the body to mimic what happens when an infection enters the body. A small amount of killed or weakened virus or bacteria is used to trigger an immune response. This protective effect is not enough to make a healthy person sick. Instead, your body is “taught” to notice and fight that type of infection. As immunity fades with age, a vaccination helps your body ward off disease. 

Recommended vaccines 

Here are the types of vaccines adults with no serious health issues may need. The recommendations differ based on age and health conditions. Check with your doctor before getting any vaccines. 

  • COVID-19. The current CDC recommendations are to receive 2 or 3 primary vaccine doses and a booster. All doses should be given at least 8 weeks apart. A booster shot is recommended every year. 
  • Influenza vaccine. Also known as the flu shot. Recommended every year in the fall. As you get older, the risk for serious complications from the flu increases. This vaccine cuts your risk of getting seasonal flu to around 40 to 60 percent. 
  • Tetanus (Td) or tetanus with diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap). Recommended if it was not received as a child or adult. After the Tdap, a booster for tetanus (Td) is recommended every 10 years. Tdap protects against tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). This is especially important for adults who have close contact with infants. Whooping cough is highly contagious and can be deadly for infants under 12 months. 
  • Shingles vaccine. Prevents or lessens the severity of shingles. Shingles is caused by the chicken pox virus (herpes zoster), which can hide in the body and re-emerge later. It can make you feel sick and cause a very painful skin rash. Sometimes it can cause problems like long-term nerve pain.  
  • Pneumococcal vaccine. Protects against diseases caused by pneumococcal bacteria like pneumonia and meningitis. There are two different types of this vaccine. When it should be given depends on age and other health conditions.   

It’s a good plan to keep a record of your immunizations. That way, you will have the information on vaccinations and dates always on hand. Note on your calendar when it’s time to get an immunization such as a yearly flu shot or a tetanus booster. 

Additional vaccines 

Sometimes vaccinations are called for due to the nature of your work or other circumstances that might put you at higher risk of exposure to certain diseases. If you are around body fluids or blood while working in a hospital, for instance, you will want to protect yourself against some illnesses. Or you may plan to travel to countries with health issues not found in the U.S. The most common of these vaccines, along with some of the reasons for them, are: 

  • Hepatitis A. For those going to a country with hepatitis A, those with liver disease, and those with blood clotting issues. 
  • Hepatitis B. For those who work in the health care field and are around blood, those going to a country with a high rate of hepatitis B, and those with liver issues. 
  • Meningococcal. For those going to a country where disease is common, those with spleen damage, and those with rare health issues. 
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR). Most adults in the U.S. have received the MMR vaccine. If you have not had this vaccine, or if you are unsure whether you have had it, talk with your doctor to see if you need it. 

These vaccines are not recommended for everyone. If you think you may need one of these vaccines, talk with your doctor. 

When you have health issues 

Some health issues, such as high blood sugar, heart disease, lung disease, and kidney disease, may affect whether you should get a vaccination. One more consideration is whether your immune system has been weakened by a health issue such as cancer. Talk with your doctor if you have a health issue. Ask which vaccines are safe and which may not be a good to have, given your health issue. 

Getting vaccinated 

You can get most recommended vaccines at your doctor’s office. Many vaccines are also available at local pharmacies, health centers, health departments, and travel clinics. Your state or local health department has information about where to get vaccinated, as well as where to go for free or low-cost vaccines. 

When you go to get a vaccination, let the doctor or clinic know if you: 

  • Have allergies 
  • Are sick 
  • Have had side effects from vaccinations in the past 

Wear clothing that gives easy access to your upper arm. And try to relax, which may help prevent muscle pain from the shot. 

Your arm may be sore for a day or so after the shot. Drink plenty of water and take acetaminophen if your doctor says it’s OK. Holding a cool, wet cloth on the arm may ease the pain. Keep moving the arm to prevent stiffness. If you have any side effects that cause concern, call your doctor right away. 

Your doctor is a good resource

You can schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about vaccines you and your family may need. Getting vaccinated can help keep you, your family, and your community healthy. 

View Credits
Primary Author: Sharon Odegaard
Clinical Reviewer: Lisa Pagani, RN, BSN, CCM, CCP
Final Review and Approval by Lisa Pagani, RN, BSN, CCM, CCP
--> Date of Annual Review:06/23/2023
Healthyroads' Editorial Staff follow a quality assurance process to help promote each article’s accuracy:
  • A health expert provides input on topic.
  • Scientific evidence from widely accepted health texts, peer-reviewed journals, and other reliable sources is consulted.
  • Final article is reviewed and approved by a health professional.
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