For the young at heart, age is just a number. However, our immune system says otherwise. As we increase in age, our bodies have a harder time fighting off illnesses and diseases that could potentially turn deadly.
“Older adults are much more vulnerable to harmful diseases that could lead to hospitalization or even death,” says Megan Puckett, MD, an assistant professor and geriatrician at University of Utah Health. “That’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated—and to stay up to date on vaccines—to keep yourself and others healthy.”
If you are 65 years or older, please consider these five vaccines to prevent serious illnesses and maintain a good quality of life for many years to come.
1. COVID-19 Vaccine
How it helps: The COVID-19 vaccine (two shots spaced three to eight weeks apart) and subsequent boosters (one shot annually) will help your body recognize and combat the virus. This protects you from serious complications including respiratory failure, stroke, pneumonia, organ failure, heart problems, and blood clots.
When to get the shot: It’s best to get boosted in October to be fully protected by the holiday season—when friends and family come together to spread good cheer and, unfortunately, germs
2. Influenza (Flu) Vaccine
How it helps: The flu vaccine (one shot per year) offers the best protection against flu and its potentially serious complications in older adults, which include sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, heart attack, and stroke.
When to get the shot: Ideally, everyone—young and old—should be vaccinated by the end of October before cases start to rise.
3. Pneumonia Vaccine
How it helps: The Prevnar 20 vaccine (a single shot) is your best line of defense against pneumonia. It can significantly lower your chance of developing complications from this deadly infection, which can include lung abscesses, respiratory disease, and sepsis.
When to get the shot: Every season is pneumonia season, so it’s important to get vaccinated right away to protect yourself.
4. Shingles Vaccine
How it helps: The Shingrix vaccine (two doses within two to six months apart) is the only way to protect against shingles. It can cause serious complications among older adults including pneumonia, hearing problems, vision loss, and brain inflammation.
When to get the shot: Shingles can strike at any moment, so adults (ages 50 years and older) who have had chickenpox in the past are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
5. RSV Vaccine
How it helps: Most recently, the FDA approved two vaccines (one dose for two winter seasons) for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This can protect you from serious complications including bronchitis, pneumonia, and inflammation of the lung's small airways.
When to get the shot: Optimally, vaccination should occur in October before the onset of the fall and winter RSV season.
Quick Tips for Staying Healthy and Protected
- Get it all done in one swoop: For most people, it’s safe to combine multiple vaccines in one visit. Talk to your doctor about a vaccination schedule that works for you.
- Think of the greater good: Stay up to date on your vaccines to protect those around you from contracting contagious diseases.
- Consider your living space: If you reside in an assisted-living facility, vaccines are critical for protecting yourself and others from deadly illnesses.
- Don’t worry about breaking the bank: Most vaccines are covered by Medicare or private insurance.
- Wash your hands: In addition to getting vaccinated, always remember what your mother told you about practicing good hygiene to avoid getting sick.
Yes, Vaccines Are Safe
Despite what you may read online, FDA-approved vaccines are indeed safe. As for side effects, most people experience mild and temporary ailments, which include soreness and swelling in the arm, fevers and chills, tiredness, headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain. Serious or long-lasting side effects are extremely rare.
“Vaccines are safe and highly effective,” Puckett says. “If you’re concerned about safety risks, such as allergies or other preexisting conditions, talk to your doctor about which vaccines are right for you.”