Critical Vaccines for Older Adults

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDOctober 27th, 2020
senior washing hands

If you’re like many people, the word “vaccine” conjures up images of infants receiving their first vaccinations—but did you know that vaccines are also essential for older adults? As you age, your immune system weakens, making it easier to contract illnesses like the flu, shingles, and pneumonia. And since adults over the age of 65 are more likely to develop serious complications from these illnesses, it’s important to utilize every defense available to keep your elderly loved one safe. This is especially true for older adults with underlying health conditions, such as congestive heart failure (CHF) and diabetes. We’re diving into the essential list of vaccines for seniors—read on.

The Flu Vaccine

The flu vaccine is recommended annually for everyone six months and older, but its importance for seniors can’t be understated. People aged 65 years and older account for more than 60% of flu-related hospitalizations and a whopping 70-85% of flu-related deaths annually. Many people recover from the flu at home within a few weeks, but for the elderly, the flu can lead to a host of serious complications—including pneumonia.

There are two types of flu shots for seniors: the high-dose vaccine and the adjuvanted vaccine. The high-dose vaccine contains four times as much antigen as the normal flu vaccine, associating it with a stronger immune response following vaccination. And the adjuvanted vaccine contains MF59 adjuvant, an additive that can also help create a stronger immune response in seniors. Not sure which is right for you or your elderly loved one? Talk to their primary care doctor to discuss annual flu vaccination needs!

The Shingles Vaccine

Did you know that almost a third of Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime? Not only that, but shingles is most common in people over the age of 50—and the risk increases with age. This makes it essential for seniors to vaccinate themselves against shingles, especially since common complications include long-term nerve damage.

There are two shingles vaccines available today: Zostavax and Shingrix. Shingrix is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the preferred shingles vaccine, but Zostavax is still safe to use for those who prefer it or who may have allergies to Shingrix.

The Pneumococcal Vaccine

You may not have realized that there’s a vaccine out there that can prevent pneumonia, but it’s a good thing to research for seniors. The elderly are more likely to contract pneumonia and develop more serious complications than younger people, causing longer hospital stays and a high mortality rate.

Enter: the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumococcal disease that can cause pneumonia, bacteremia, sepsis, and meningitis. There are two different pneumococcal vaccines: the polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) and the conjugate vaccine (PCV13).

The CDC recommends PPSV23, which protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria, for all adults over the age of 65. They also recommend PCV13 for seniors with some underlying health conditions that weaken the immune system. To determine which is right for you or your elderly loved one—keeping in mind that the two vaccines shouldn’t be administered at the same time—talk to your doctor.

Other Vaccines

Besides the big three listed above—which are essential for seniors in particular—there are a few other vaccines recommended for all adults, including:

  • Tdap – Every adult should get the Tdap at least once if they didn’t receive it as an adolescent. It protects against pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Td – The Td vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria. A booster should be administered once every 10 years.

People with underlying health conditions—such as diabetes, liver disease, and renal disease—should consider additional vaccinations recommended by the CDC. Some of these include MMR, Varicella, and Hepatitis B vaccines, among others.

Turn to DispatchHealth for In-Home Medical Care


Vaccination is important for seniors to prevent contracting illnesses like the flu, pneumonia, and shingles. The unfortunate reality is that seniors often go unvaccinated, leading to contraction of these illnesses—which can result in serious complications. But if you or your elderly loved one is dealing with the flu, shingles, or pneumonia—or any other low- or high-acuity illness—don’t fear! DispatchHealth can treat you in the comfort of your own home, allowing you to skip the hassle of traveling to the urgent care or emergency room. We don’t administer vaccinations, but we can treat almost everything an ER can, and we’re taking extensive precautions to protect our staff and patients from coronavirus (COVID-19). We accept most major forms of insurance—including Medicare and Medicaid—and offer an affordable flat rate for uninsured patients.

Requesting care is easy; simply give us a call, download our app, or request care on our website to receive the treatment you need on your doorstep within a few hours. And in the meantime—give your doctor a call to discuss your vaccination plan!


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

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