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COVID-19 Vaccines and Older Adults

This information was accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, some information may have changed since the original publication date.

The risk of getting infected with  COVID-19  and experiencing severe illness increases with age. People 65 and older are at the highest risk of getting infected with COVID-19 and are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus. The good news is that COVID-19 vaccination helps prevent against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from the virus.

Timothy Farrell, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics and Associate Chief for Age-Friendly Care at University of Utah Health, answers common questions about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

Why should older adults get vaccinated?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, older people are more likely to get very sick and even die from COVID-19. In Utah, data from the first year of COVID-19 showed 70% of deaths from the virus occurred in people ages 65 and older. Since Fall 2022, approximately 90% of deaths from the virus in the U.S. have occurred in people ages 65 and older.

Age is also a strong risk factor for bad outcomes from COVID-19. According to the CDC, people 85 and older are the most likely to get very sick. This is why it’s extremely important for older adults to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccination and a booster shot.

Research has also found that people 65 years and older who were fully vaccinated with an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were 94% less likely to be hospitalized.

Do COVID-19 vaccines work against developing virus variants?

COVID-19 vaccination and a booster shot helps protect you from becoming severely sick with all variants. While they aren’t likely to prevent you from getting sick or provide long-term protection, COVID-19 vaccination prevents severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

How many COVID-19 shots do I need?

Currently, the CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older to get one updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, regardless if you’ve received an original COVID-19 vaccine.

People aged 65 years and older should get one additional updated COVID-19 booster dose at least four months after their first updated vaccine.

Can COVID-19 vaccines make people sick?

Data suggests that side effects from COVID-19 vaccination are minimal and short-lived. Common side effects include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. This reaction is the body’s immune system mounting against the virus and building immunity. Tylenol or ibuprofen can help alleviate these symptoms.

There are no other infections or illnesses you can get directly from the vaccine itself. It’s well worth receiving the vaccine instead of getting infected with COVID-19.

Can people experience adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines?

Severe allergic reactions to the vaccine can occur but are extremely rare. Allergic reactions tend to occur in people who had previous allergic reactions to other medications or vaccines. The likelihood of experiencing an adverse reaction to the vaccine is far less common than the risk of getting COVID-19.

Can you still get infected with COVID-19 after getting vaccinated?

Breakthrough infections are more common as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to evolve and mutate. Whether you’ve been vaccinated or previously infected, you can still get reinfected by new virus variants. However, COVID-19 vaccination will protect you from severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Can you get your COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same time?

Yes. It’s safe to get both shots at the same time. It’s possible to not feel well for a day or two after receiving your vaccines. You can use this online tool to schedule an appointment near you.