Contrary to popular belief, getting vaccinated is not just for children. Rather, adults over 65 can often benefit most from staying on top of their vaccinations. Vaccinations are just as important for seniors.
There are several immunizations for older adults that are recommended by doctors, including the influenza vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine, shingles vaccine, and the Hepatitis B vaccine.
Here is everything seniors and caregivers need to know about vaccines for the elderly, including the side effects of the vaccines, their effectiveness, and more.
So, what vaccines should people over 65 get? Important vaccines for elders include:
Flu Vaccine for the Elderly
Influenza is the medical term for that annoying illness; everyone seems to get every year in late fall and early winter: the Flu. Influenza causes cold-like symptoms such as sinus issues and congestion, sore throat, as well as fatigue, and high fever. In seniors, it is common for the Flu to bring more complications, such as pneumonia, which could be life-threatening. There are many ways to prevent the Flu, but one of the most assured ways is to get a yearly influenza vaccination.
The high dose flu vaccine is the most commonly recommended flu vaccine for seniors. This vaccine has a higher amount of antigen, which is associated with higher antibody production and stronger immune response. This is necessary for seniors, who tend to have weaker immune systems.
How common is the Flu in the elderly?
The influenza vaccine for seniors is the best protection against the Flu, which affects seniors more severely than any other age group. The CDC says 70–90% of flu-related deaths occur in people aged 65 and older.
How effective is the Influenza vaccine?
The CDC says the high dose flu vaccine prevents the Flu for the elderly 24% more effectively than the normal flu shot.
How and where to get the Influenza vaccine
Doctors suggest to get one get a flu shot every season. There are many places to receive your flu shot, but this handy tool makes it easy to find the location nearest to you.
Side effects of the Influenza vaccine
Side effects include discomfort at the site of injection and mild headaches.
Pneumonia Vaccine for the Elderly
A common misunderstanding is that there is a vaccine for pneumonia, but really what people are thinking of is the vaccine for pneumococcal bacteria, which causes pneumonia. So this vaccine must be sought out proactively, rather than reactively. Pneumococcal bacteria is infectious and also causes bacteremia, and ear, sinus, and bloodstream infections. Getting the pneumococcal vaccine could prevent weeks of illness, and — in some cases among the elderly — death.
How common is Pneumococcal infection in the elderly?
The CDC says children younger than two and adults older than 65 are at the greatest risk of getting pneumococcal disease.
How effective is the Pneumococcal vaccine?
The pneumococcal vaccine is 60-80 percent effective at preventing infection.
How and where to get the Pneumococcal vaccine
There are two shots that work together to prevent pneumococcal bacteria infections: PCV13 and PPSV23. The CDC recommends getting PCV13 and PPSV23 at the same time. It is recommended to get the PCV13 first, followed by the PPSV23 at a separate, later visit. Talk with your healthcare professional to find out when you should come back for the second vaccine. Once you have the vaccinations, they will last the rest of your life. You can get this vaccine at most pharmacies and healthcare facilities. Just ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you and where to get it.
Side effects of the Pneumococcal vaccine
Discomfort and redness at the site of the injection, irritability, loss of appetite, headache, chills, and fever.
Shingles Vaccine for the Elderly
The first sign of shingles is usually a rash that spreads across one side of the body, often the torso, but it can be on the head or face as well. The rash rarely crosses the midline, so that’s a telltale sign to watch for.
You can’t get shingles from someone else, but people who have never had chicken pox (and are not vaccinated) can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles. Experts say the reverse is not true. You can’t get shingles from someone who has chickenpox.
Experts used to say only people who have had chickenpox could contract shingles (which includes about 99 percent of us), but they’ve since discovered that even people who received the chickenpox vaccine can get shingles, though it is rare and the cases have been milder.
How common is Shingles in the elderly?
By various estimates, somewhere between 20 and 33 percent of Americans will get shingles in their lifetime, and the risk increases significantly after age 50. Nearly half of people over the age of 85 have had shingles.
How effective is the Shingles vaccine?
According to experts at the CDC, the shingles vaccine is about 51 percent effective, meaning the vaccine cuts your risk in half. Experts also say that even if you do get shingles, having had the vaccine lessens the severity of the outbreak and reduces the chances of getting PHN.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for people over age 60, unless they have a compromised immune system or some other health condition that argues against the vaccine.
How and where to get the Shingles vaccine
The shingles vaccine is a one-time shot that you can receive at most doctor’s offices or pharmacies.
Side effects of the Shingles vaccine
Symptoms include burning, tingling or numbness of the skin, feeling sick with chills, fever, upset stomach or headache, fluid-filled blisters, skin that is sensitive to the touch and discomfort that can range from mild itching to severe pain. While the rash and blisters can last ten days to two weeks, in some cases the main infection is followed by postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is nerve damage that can cause severe pain for weeks, months and even years.
Hepatitis B Vaccine for the Elderly
Hepatitis B (or hep B) is a contagious virus that infects the liver. Acute hep B, which usually lasts a few weeks, often mimics symptoms similar to the Flu, like fever and nausea. Chronic hep B is long-term, often has no symptoms at all, and can cause liver damage or death.
How common is Hepatitis B in the elderly?
Your risk of contracting hepatitis B increases if you have hemophilia, end-stage renal disease (ESRD), diabetes, or other conditions that lower resistance to infection. Acute hep B is particularly dangerous for older adults because there is no specific treatment for the symptoms.
How effective is the Hepatitis B vaccine?
The vaccine has an 80-100% effectiveness in preventing Hepatitis B.
How and where to get the Hepatitis B vaccine
The vaccine is administered in a series of three or four injections. You may have had the injections as a child already, so make sure to talk to your doctor before going to get these vaccines. Like most other vaccines we mentioned, you can get this vaccine at most doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
Side effects of the Hepatitis B vaccine
Side effects include soreness at the site of the injection, headaches, weakness, dizziness, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, sore throat, and a runny or stuffy nose.
Tips on Getting Vaccinated as a Senior
Though the side effects of vaccines are usually mild, vaccine recovery times for seniors tend to be longer. After you receive your shot, plan to rest for the remainder of the day. If symptoms are especially harsh or last for longer than a day or two, contact your doctor immediately.
For tips on preparing for your vaccination and staying relaxed while it is administered, this vaccines.gov blog is an excellent resource.
To find where you can get vaccinated, use this Adult Vaccine Finder tool.