Vaccines at All Ages

Older people will be at the front of a very long line for the future coronavirus vaccine. COVID-19, in fact, has highlighted a sobering truth shaking up older people: They bear the brunt of disease severity and sometimes lasting complications.

That’s why the experts at the Centers for Disease Control say it’s crucial for people ages 60 and up to follow through on vaccine recommendations (in some cases, the starting age is said to be 50). Check with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re up to date on the following vaccines. And remember to report any side effects you might experience from a vaccine, such as fever, nausea, swelling, headache, and chills.

Most Common Vaccines for Seniors

Here are the top vaccines recommended for older people:

Flu Shot

Every year you should get the seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine to protect against the contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The vaccine is important for older people and those with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. For these vulnerable groups, the flu can lead to serious sinus infections and bacterial pneumonia as well as worsen chronic conditions.

Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis)

Get this vaccine (a bundle of 3) if you did not receive it as an adolescent or don’t have any documentation to confirm. In addition, get the Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years. These vaccines protect against three life-threatening bacterial diseases that affect the brain, nervous system, heart, and lungs.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

Two vaccines—PCV13 and PPSV23–protect against pneumonia infections that can be severe and lead to respiratory failure, bacterial blood infection, and kidney failure.

Zoster Vaccine

Adults 50 and older should get the Shingrix vaccine to prevent shingles—even if they’ve already had shingles or have had an older form of the shingles vaccine called Zostavax. The Shingrix vaccine is shown to be highly effective in preventing an occurrence (or recurrence) of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia that can result.

Shingles is the blistering painful rash that appears when the chickenpox virus, lying dormant in nerve endings, reactivates—a common problem in people ages 60 and up. (Older people generally have had the chickenpox infection as kids; the chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995.) Shingles is characterized by oversensitivity and a burning sensation in the affected area followed by a rash that turns into fluid-filled blisters.

Postherpetic neuralgia is the burning pain that lasts, sometimes months and years, after rash and blisters disappear.

Vaccines for Travel

If you travel, ask your doctor whether you’re a candidate for these vaccines:

Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine

Both Meningococcal ACWY and Meningococcal B vaccines prevent bacterial meningitis, which can damage blood vessels and cause brain damage or a serious blood infection. Ask your doctor about these vaccines, particularly if you’re traveling to Africa or the Middle East.

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B Vaccines

Older people are at increased risk of contracting hepatitis A or B infections when they travel. These contagious infections can attack and scar the liver, causing it to fail. Hepatitis A can be transmitted through unsanitary food or water. Older people with kidney disease or diabetes are at an even higher risk of both infections.