vaccination guide for ages 60+

Vaccinations are a way of life, most notably over the past couple of years. But COVID-19 is not the only vaccine that the 60-and-older population should be getting; in fact, there are five in total.

But we must start with the different vaccines currently available to fight COVID. Look no further than the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to see that, while the virus has had a devastating effect on persons of all ages, it has been particularly insidious when it comes to older generations.

As of March 9, the CDC reported those ages 50 and older have accounted for over 91% of the COVID-related deaths in this country over the last two years.

By this point nearly everybody in these age groups should be fully vaccinated for COVID – meaning two shots (including a booster) for Johnson & Johnson patients, and three shots (including the booster) for either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Keep in mind that you can “mix and match” when it comes to a booster, meaning that regardless of which of those three alternatives you initially received, you can get a booster from any of those manufacturers.

In addition, the flu is unfortunately still a major concern. The number of cases in the U.S. for ages 65 and older dropped by close to 14% during the height of COVID, when many of us were essentially confined to our homes and/or wearing masks in public, thus reducing potential exposure. The CDC recorded over 2.2 million flu cases for the 65 plus population for the 2018 to 2019 season, dropping to 1.9 million for that age group for 2019 to 2020.

Even so, the mortality rate remains high for those aged 50 and over, accounting for roughly 88% of all flu deaths from 2020 to 2022, according to the CDC.

Side effects of a flu vaccination can include injection-site pain, fatigue and in some cases nausea. All of these tend to be short-lived. As for those hesitant to get a flu shot due to egg allergies, rest assured that is no longer a real contraindication.

Another key vaccination to receive is for pneumonia: the most common cause of U.S. adult hospital admissions other than women giving birth. About one million adults in the U.S. seek pneumonia-related care annually, and approximately 50,000 people die from it. The Pneumovax 23 vaccine is typically given to older adults; it is usually just one shot, though if you are in a high-risk group for pneumococcal infection, your healthcare provider may elect to offer a second shot down the line.

Potential side effects include injection-site soreness, fever, head or muscle aches, and fatigue.

Shingles “doesn’t care,” according to a recent series of TV commercials, and that’s true. According to the CDC, an estimated one million Americans get shingles (also known as herpes zoster) each year, and about one out of every three people in the U.S. will develop it at some point. As is often the case, your risk of contracting shingles increases as you age.

The CDC recommends two doses of a vaccine (RZV, Shingrix) to prevent shingles and related complications in adults ages 50 and older. Shingrix is also recommended for adults 19 years and older who may have weakened immune systems due to disease or therapy, although the immuno-compromised should check with their provider. Possible side effects include injection-site pain, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, stomach pain, nausea, fever, or chills.

Lastly, there is the DPT (diptheria, pertussis or whooping cough, tetanus) vaccine, which is available for anyone from the age of 7 on up. Older adults should be aware, however, that even if they received a DPT shot at a younger age, their healthcare provider may offer a booster every 10 years to prevent developing one or all of those diseases.

Side effects may include injection-site pain or swelling, mild fever, headache, upset stomach and fatigue.

Nobody enjoys getting a shot. But as we get older, doing so can literally be a lifesaver. For more information, see your healthcare provider and/or visit the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) websites.

Latest posts by Dr. Michael Finkelstein (see all)