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Guide to Senior Vaccines

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As a caregiver, you might not know how to protect your loved one from certain diseases. While you cannot protect them from everything, you can certainly keep them healthy by encouraging them to take the vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC). This list does not include every vaccine, but it gives you a solid idea about the most common vaccines for older adults.


First, a few top takeaways about senior vaccines:

  1. Vaccines are safe and effective.
  2. Vaccine-preventable diseases can lead to life-threatening complications requiring hospitalization.
  3. Older adults have weaker immune systems and usually have one or more high risk health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease. This puts them at a higher risk for serious complications.


Top 8 Vaccines for adults age 65 and older 


1. Shingles Vaccine (Herpes Zoster Vaccine)


Shingles (herpes zoster) is an infection that causes painful rash and blisters on one side of the body. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella). While shingles is not life-threatening, it can cause long-lasting pain.

The CDC recommends that all healthy adults over the age of 50 receive the Shingrix vaccine. Seniors who have had shingles in the past or have received the older shingles vaccine, Zostavax, are also encouraged to take the Shingrix shot for better protection.


2. Influenza Vaccine


The influenza vaccine (flu vaccine), is recommended every flu season beginning in the fall. The sooner the flu shot is taken, the more your loved one is protected.

Unlike other vaccines, the flu vaccine is a yearly shot. Since flu viruses change every season, each year’s flu vaccine is different from the last one.

There is a high-dose flu vaccine created for older adults. It provides higher protection than other versions of the flu vaccine.  


3. Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis (Tdap) Vaccine


The CDC recommends the combined tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine for older adults who:

  • Have not received a tetanus shot in the past ten years, or 
  • Only received tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine in the past.

Tetanus, or lockjaw, is caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria that produce a toxin that affects the nervous system. Tetanus exists in soil, manure, and dust. Infection with tetanus causes painful muscle contractions in the jaw and neck.  

Diphtheria is caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria that produce a toxin that affects the respiratory system. This bacteria can spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. Diphtheria infection can lead to difficulty breathing and swallowing, paralysis, damage to kidneys and heart, and even death.  

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria that produce a toxin that affects the upper respiratory system. This bacteria is highly contagious and can spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and being in close contact with a person infected with pertussis.

Sometimes, older adults are encouraged to receive the Tdap vaccine when they are about to become grandparents to protect the newborn from whooping cough.  


4. Pneumococcal Vaccine (Pneumonia Vaccine)  


Pneumococcal disease is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can lead to serious infections, such as pneumonia (lung infection), bacteremia (blood infection), and meningitis (infection of the meninges, or protective membranes, of the brain and spinal cord).

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13, PCV15, PCV20)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

The CDC recommends PCV15 or PCV20 for seniors who have never received the pneumococcal vaccine, followed by PPSV23. 


5. Coronavirus Vaccine (COVID-19 Vaccine)


COVID-19 is a virus caused by SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 causes a respiratory illness ranging from mild to severe.

Most common symptoms include fever, chills, cough, fatigue, muscle pain, shortness of breath, headache, loss of taste or smell, and diarrhea.

For some seniors, the typical symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough and fever, may not be present. Instead, seniors infected with COVID-19 may seem lethargic, confused, sleep more, and eat less. If you are worried that your loved one might have COVID, contact their healthcare provider.

Older adults are at an increased risk for complications, including those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and helps protect your loved ones from getting seriously ill if they get COVID. Getting vaccinated also helps end the coronavirus pandemic.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the one-dose vaccine.


6. Hepatitis A Vaccine


Hepatitis A, or Hep A, is a virus that infects the liver. It can spread through close contact with an infected person or by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. 

Hepatitis A virus is an acute (short-term) infection. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, light-colored stool, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and fatigue. 

The CDC recommends that all adults who have not received the vaccine as infants receive the hepatitis A vaccine. 

There are two vaccines available for adults:

  • Hep A vaccine in a two-dose series, given six to eighteen months apart
  • A combination Hep A and Hep B vaccine in a three-dose series, given over six months. 


7. Hepatitis B Vaccine


Hepatitis B, or Hep B, is a virus that infects the liver. It is contagious and can spread from person to person through bodily fluids, such as blood and semen.

Hepatitis B can be acute (short-term), and symptoms are similar to the flu, such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Hepatitis B can also become chronic (long-term) and will mostly have no symptoms but can lead to irreversible liver damage, liver cancer, and death if left untreated.

Hepatitis B is more dangerous to older adults since their livers are less able to withstand stress compared with the livers of younger adults.

The CDC recommends that all adults, with or without risk factors, who have not received the vaccine as infants, be offered the hepatitis B vaccine. Some older adults will need to be vaccinated again for better protection. The vaccine is available in two doses, one month apart, or in three doses, over six months.

Speak with your loved one’s healthcare provider to check if the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccines are necessary.


8. Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine (MMR Vaccine)


Measles causes runny nose, watery eyes, fever, and rash. Complications include seizures, pneumonia, ear infections, and sometimes death.

Mumps causes swollen salivary glands, fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Complications include deafness, painful and swollen testicles or ovaries, meningitis, and death (rare).

Rubella causes sore throat, fever, rash, itchy eyes, and headaches. Complications include arthritis (inflammation of the joints), neuritis (inflammation of some nerves), and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

The MMR vaccine is a single-dose vaccine. The CDC recommends this vaccine for some, but not all, older adults.

Caregivers are encouraged to speak with their loved one’s healthcare providers to learn more about their eligibility for this vaccine.


Common Side Effects of Vaccines


Older adults have the same chance of suffering from vaccine side effects as younger adults. Since older adults have weaker immune systems, immune response to vaccines will be weaker, and as a result, vaccine side effects may be milder compared with younger adults. 

Common vaccine side effects include soreness or redness at the injection site, fever, and muscle aches.

If these side effects don’t go away or get worse, contact your loved one’s healthcare provider or local pharmacy immediately. 


Medicare Coverage


  • Vaccines covered under Medicare Part B (medical insurance) have no extra cost.
  • Vaccines covered under Medicare Part D (drug coverage) may have out-of-pocket expenses, depending on the plan. 


 Medicare Part B covers:

    • Flu vaccine
    • Pneumonia vaccine
    • COVID-19 vaccine
    • Hepatitis B vaccine

NOTE: Medicare Part B does not cover the Tdap vaccine and booster but covers tetanus shot if deemed necessary in case of exposure. 


Medicare Part D covers:

    • Shingles vaccine
    • Tdap vaccine
    • Hepatitis A
    • MMR vaccine 


Caregivers can contact Medicare or go to Medicare.gov for more information.


Caregivers as Vaccine Advocates


Become a vaccine advocate by:

  1. Encouraging your loved ones to be fully vaccinated
  2. Staying up-to-date with your vaccinations
  3. Discussing the benefits of vaccines with your family and friends


Suraya Hammoudeh, PharmD

clinical Pharmacist with a decade of experience working with health conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, high blood pressure, and Heart Disease.

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