Immunisation for older adults

Vaccinations are not just for children. Older adults also need vaccinations. Protection provided by some childhood vaccines can wear off over time, and as you get older your immune system tends to weaken, putting you at higher risk of certain diseases.

Influenza vaccine (flu vaccine)

In New Zealand the flu vaccine is free for people 65 years and over. It’s important to get the flu vaccine every year because protection from the previous vaccination becomes less effective over time. Each year the flu vaccine is developed to match the different strains of flu virus you are likely to encounter. The new vaccine is usually available in April. To protect against the serious complications of influenza, you are advised to have the vaccine before the winter season when most people catch the flu.

Read more about the flu and the flu vaccine.

Pneumococcal vaccine

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bug (bacteria) called S. pneumoniae. This causes serious illnesses such as pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis and septicaemia (infection of the blood). Pneumonia can cause hospitalisation and even death, especially in people 65 years or older.

Getting the pneumococcal vaccine is one of the ways to protect against pneumococcal disease. The vaccine may not always prevent pneumonia but it can lessen the illness and the need to go to hospital. Pneumococcal vaccine is not free for all older adults in New Zealand – you may need to pay for it. People aged over 65 years only need one dose.

Read more about pneumococcal disease and pneumococcal vaccine.

Shingles vaccine

Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash. It usually appears on your chest, but it can also be on your trunk, back, legs or face. It is most common in people over 70 years of age, but can happen in younger people. It is caused by the same virus (varicella zoster) that causes chickenpox. 

In New Zealand, one dose of the shingles vaccine is funded for people aged 65 years, or for people aged between 66 and 80 years inclusive from 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2020. 

Read more about shingles and shingles vaccine

Tetanus vaccine

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by bacteria that is usually found in soil and manure. It affects your nervous system and causes severe muscle spasms, mainly of your jaw and neck muscles. Tetanus can affect breathing and can be life threatening.

Anyone who has not had 3 tetanus-containing vaccines is at risk of getting tetanus. People over 50 years of age (particularly women) are most likely to suffer from tetanus. This is because the national childhood immunisation programme with tetanus vaccine only started in 1960. Before 1960, tetanus immunisation was only routinely given to armed forces personnel.

Booster doses of tetanus vaccine may be given to adults at 45 and 65 years of age, after some cuts, wounds and injuries, especially if the wound contains dirt, poo (faeces) or a foreign object. The vaccine is free but you may need to pay for it to be given. Ask your doctor or nurse for more information.

Read more about tetanus and tetanus vaccine.

Learn more

Influenza vaccine Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Pneumococcal disease Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Zostavax vaccine Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ

References

  1. Pneumococcal vaccine for adults: Pneumovax23 BPAC, NZ, 2011
  2. The diagnosis and management of herpes zoster and its complications BPAC, NZ, 2014
  3. Zoster (herpes zoster/‌shingles) Immunisation Handbook, NZ, 2017
  4. Influenza Immunisation Handbook, NZ 2017
  5. Pneumococcal disease Immunisation Handbook, NZ 2017
  6. Tetanus Immunisation Handbook, NZ, 2017
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 13 Dec 2017