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What to know about vaccines for older adults

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Recommended vaccinesBenefitsHow to decideSummary
The CDC recommends vaccination for older adults because the immune system can get weaker with age. This typically includes vaccines for flu, shingles, and pneumonia.
Medically reviewed by Jennie Olopaade, PharmD, RPH
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on

As you get older, your immune system typically gets weaker, which means you may be more likely to contract certain viruses and infections. This is why doctors recommend vaccination against several different types of illnesses, specifically for people over the age of 65 years.

Vaccination can help reduce the potential for serious complications like hospitalization, especially for older adults. It can also prevent unwanted side effects from illness or make your symptoms less severe. 

Each vaccine comes with potential side effects. All vaccines also have a risk of severe adverse effects and allergic reactions. You can discuss these with a healthcare professional, such as the nurse, pharmacist, or doctor administering your vaccine. 

Older adult getting a vaccine.
Maskot/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people over the age of 65 years stay up-to-date with the following vaccinations:


COVID-19 vaccination can prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19.

According to the CDC, vaccination can also help prevent a serious condition of heart inflammation called myocarditis, which can develop from COVID-19.

The options for COVID-19 vaccinations are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax. The CDC’s recommendations for older adults are the same as those for adults of other ages:

  • If you have not had a prior COVID-19 vaccine, get either one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two doses of the Novavax vaccine.
  • If you have had a prior COVID-19 vaccine, get one dose of any updated COVID-19 vaccine.

You may choose to get additional doses if you are immunocompromised. If you are recovering from COVID-19, you may wish to delay your next vaccine dose by 3 months. 

Potential side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine can include:

  • nausea
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • pain at the injection site

If you develop pain after getting vaccinated, over-the-counter medications such as acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help ease symptoms.

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Influenza (flu)

Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of serious complications and hospitalization. 

The CDC recommends three vaccines for people ages 65 years and older:

  • Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent inactivated flu vaccine
  • Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine 
  • Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted inactivated flu vaccine

If one of these preferred flu vaccines is unavailable when you get your vaccination, you can choose to have another flu vaccine. 

Potential side effects of the influenza vaccine can include:

  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • soreness at the injection site


The pneumococcal vaccines protect against infections that are caused by pneumococcus bacteria. Those infections include pneumonia, meningitis, sinusitis, and certain types of bloodstream infections.

Two types of pneumococcal vaccines are available in the United States:

  • pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV15 and PCV20)
  • pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

Your vaccine options can depend on whether you’ve ever had a pneumococcal vaccination before.

If you’ve never had a pneumococcal vaccine, you can take PCV15 followed by PPSV23. If you’ve already received PCV13 at any age and PPSV23 after age 65 years, you can take PCV20.

Potential side effects of the pneumococcal vaccines may include fever and pain at the injection site.

Zoster (shingles)

According to the CDC, the shingles vaccine (Shingrix) is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles in adults ages 50 years and older. It can also help prevent symptoms such as postherpetic neuralgia, vision problems, and skin infection.

Experts recommend getting two doses of the Shingrix vaccine 2–6 months apart. You may want to consider this vaccine even if you’ve had shingles or had the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. 

A previous shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is no longer on the U.S. market. The CDC recommends getting Shingrix even if you’ve already received Zostavax.

Potential side effects of the zoster vaccine may include muscle pain, headache, and stomach pain.

Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough)

People ages 65 years and older should consider the Tdap or Td vaccine to help prevent infection:

  • The Tdap (Adacel, Boostrix) vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
  • The Td (Tenivac, Tdvax) protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

The vaccine is generally given once every 10 years, regardless of whether it’s a Tdap or Td vaccine. A doctor might give it as part of a three-shot series if you have never had a prior vaccination for these conditions.

Diphtheria and tetanus are both serious conditions. But because of widespread vaccination, they are extremely rare in the United States.

Potential side effects of the Tdap or Td vaccine may include:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • nausea

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

The RSV vaccine can help protect you against respiratory infections. While it isn’t recommended for all older adults, you can discuss your options with a doctor to see whether you would benefit from the vaccine.

The CDC suggests speaking with a doctor about RSV vaccination if you’re age 60 years or older and you:

  • have a weakened immune system from a chronic condition like HIV or leukemia 
  • have a weakened immune system from cancer treatment or other medications
  • have a chronic condition like heart or lung disease
  • live in a nursing home

The two types of RSV vaccines available in the United States are:

  • RSVPreF3 (Arexvy)
  • RSVpreF (Abrysvo)

One dose of either vaccine typically works for at least two winter seasons, per the CDC. 

Potential side effects of the RSV vaccine may include:

  • headache
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea

What are the benefits of receiving vaccinations as an older adult? 

Getting vaccinated can help prevent unwanted side effects of viruses and infections, like the flu.

Depending on the vaccine and condition, they can protect against the condition or make its symptoms less severe. For older adults, this can mean less time spent in the hospital and fewer severe complications.

How to decide if a vaccine is right for you 

Before taking a vaccine, you may want to discuss your options with a doctor.

To decide which vaccines are right for you, consider:

  • your personal health history
  • your prior vaccination record
  • any allergies or prior adverse reactions to vaccines you’ve experienced
  • any chronic or long-term health conditions you have
  • any immunosuppressant medications you’re taking
  • any current or recent infections, like shingles or COVID-19

A doctor can help you to determine what might be your best vaccine schedule.


As people age, their immune systems typically weaken. They might become more susceptible to infections or serious complications of common conditions.

The CDC recommends several vaccinations for older adults, including:

  • COVID-19
  • pneumococcal
  • shingles
  • influenza
  • Tdap or Td
  • RSV

It can be a good idea to discuss your health history with a doctor before getting a vaccine to determine whether it is suitable for you.

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