4 Vaccines You Probably Need

By Korin Miller |

Immunizations aren’t just for kids. Here are four you may need to protect your health.

man with bandage after injection

Vaccines aren’t just for kids. They’re important for adults too—especially seniors.

As you get older, your immune system tends to weaken, which increases your risk of developing certain illnesses. Meanwhile, many vaccines aren’t a one-shot deal: You need a booster or repeat vaccine at specified intervals to stay protected.

“Vaccines provide an excellent way to prevent illness and remain healthy,” says Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and an associate professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University.

But which ones do you really need? Here are four vaccines every older adult should ask their doctor about.

Vaccine #1: Tdap or Td Booster

Your 11-year-old grandson might have gotten this shot last week, but don’t be surprised if you need one too. If you’ve never had a Tdap shot, you should get one as soon as possible. If you’ve previously had Tdap, you’ll need a Td booster every 10 years. Got a severe cut or burn but can’t recall the last time you had a Tdap or Td booster? Check in with your doctor right away.

Tdap helps protect against:

  • Tetanus (a.k.a. lockjaw), which causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness
  • Diphtheria, which can cause breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis, and death
  • Pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough), which causes severe coughing spells, difficulty breathing, and vomiting

Vaccine #2: Shingles

Almost one out of every three Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime, and the risk increases as you get older. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all healthy adults 50 and older get two doses of the Shingrix shingles vaccine, two to six months apart.

Shingles causes a painful rash that forms on one side of your body and can last up to five weeks. Many people who develop shingles, which is related to the chickenpox virus, also end up with pain that persists long after the rash disappears (post-herpetic neuralgia), as well as vision issues, facial paralysis, and skin blisters.

Learn more in our guide to the new shingles vaccine.

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Vaccine #3: Pneumococcal

The CDC recommends that all adults age 65 and older get the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against potentially deadly infections of the bloodstream and lungs, including pneumonia.

Current guidelines suggest getting one dose of two different pneumococcal vaccines—PCV13 (Prevnar 13) followed by PPSV23 (Pneumovax)—a year apart.

If you’re younger than 65 but have certain conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system, your doctor may also recommend a pneumococcal vaccine.

Vaccine #4: Flu

This is the one shot you need every year, Dr. Watkins says. Up to 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations—and up to 85 percent of flu-related deaths—occur in people 65 years and older, so it’s important to take it seriously.

The flu vaccine isn’t perfect, but it will lower your odds of getting sick and decrease the risk of serious complications if you end up getting the flu anyway.

This vaccine takes at least two weeks to start working, so it’s best to get it before the end of October, according to the National Institute on Aging. If that’s not possible, get it as soon as possible—flu season can last through March, so any protection is helpful.

Get Ready for Your Appointment

Seeing your doctor annually is the easiest way to ensure you’re up to date on vaccines. Before you go, check with your health plan about benefits. Or learn more about Medicare coverage for “yearly wellness visits” and other tests, items, or services here.

To help your doctor determine the best vaccines and timing for you, be sure to discuss any:

  • Health conditions or recent health events, such as trips to the ER or hospitalizations
  • Current medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements
  • Previous adverse (negative) or allergic reactions to vaccines: Your doctor may be able to recommend an alternative or recommend other steps that can help protect you.

See more tips to get the most out of your doctor visit with these four simple rules.

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