Immunizations for Seniors

The topic of immunizations for seniors is something that comes up usually around flu season—”Do I need a flu shot? What other shots am I missing?”

While flu shots are incredibly important, especially for older adults who may be more vulnerable to complications from the flu (over 60% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in adults 65 years and older), ensuring that you’re up to date on vaccinations is an important preventative measure you can take to limit your risk of certain illnesses.

As we get older, our immune systems become weaker and put us at higher risk for certain diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends receiving:

  • Influenza vaccine—also known as a flu shot, or a seasonal flu vaccine, once a year
  • Shingles vaccine—protects against shingles and accompanying complications
  • Pneumococcal vaccines—these protect against infections in the lungs and bloodstream and pneumococcal disease
  • Tdap vaccine—protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
  • Td booster—continued protection against tetanus and diphtheria

Seasonal Flu

You’ve probably heard of the annual flu shot. It’s the single best way to prevent the flu, is widely available, and probably covered under your insurance. Doctors recommend that almost everyone receive a flu shot once a year, and older Americans have two options available – the regular-dose version or a newer, high-dose alternative, made especially for seniors. A 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the high-dose vaccine was 24.2 percent more effective in preventing the flu in those age 65 and older. Ask your doctor which one is right for you.

If you’re a caregiver, you should also receive your flu shot! This is especially true if your loved one or patient cannot receive a flu shot for other medical reasons.


Shingles is an extremely painful, burning rash. Doctors recommend a new shingles vaccine, which is shown to reduce risk in adults over 50 by 97%, and in adults over 70, it reduces the risk by 90%. It can also protect against the chronic pain that may develop after a case of shingles. Your doctor may recommend the new vaccine even if you’ve already been given the old vaccine.

Pneumococcal Disease

A pneumococcal disease may manifest as pneumonia, bacteremia (blood infection) or meningitis, among other ailments. For those 65 or older, two separate vaccines are recommended. You should get one dose of the PCV13 vaccine and then schedule another appointment to get the PCV23 vaccine. They should not be taken together. Your doctor can tell you when to get your PCV23 shot.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Whooping Cough

Adults of all ages should have a Td booster shot every ten years to protect against tetanus and diphtheria.

If you didn’t receive a Tdap vaccine when you were a child or a teenager, talk to your doctor—it will protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, which is especially important if you come in contact with babies who are too young to be immunized.

As always, talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have about your immunizations. If you’re unsure about which you’ve had and which you need, your doctor can help you determine what, if any, you’re missing.

Categories: Senior Health