Immunisation for older adults and seniors

Older adults and seniors also need immunisation.

The influenza vaccine is free for New Zealanders aged 65 years and over, but other recommended vaccines such as pneumococcal vaccine and shingles vaccine need to be paid for privately.

Influenza vaccine

In New Zealand, the influenza vaccine is free for New Zealanders aged 65 years and over. It is given every year (annually) and matches the different strains of flu virus you are likely to encounter that year. The new vaccine is normally made available in early March. To protect against the serious complications of influenza, you are advised to have the vaccine before the winter season when the flu is most prevalent.

Pneumococcal vaccine

Pneumococcal infection is caused by a bug (bacteria) called S. pneumoniae. This bug is a common cause of serious illnesses such as pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis and septicaemia (infection of the blood). Pneumonia is a significant cause of hospitalisation and even death, particularly in adults 65 years or older.¹

In New Zealand, the vaccine that is effective against pneumococcal infection is called Pneumovax23. This vaccine may not prevent pneumonia in older people, but does lessen the severity of the illness and reduce admission to hospital. Pneumococcal vaccine is not free for older adults in New Zealand – you would need to pay for it (at a cost of approximately $55–$75).¹ People aged over 65 years require only one dose.

Shingles vaccine

Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash that usually appears on the chest, but can also affect the trunk, back, legs or face. It usually occurs in people aged over 50 years and is four times more common in those over 70 years of age. It is caused by the same virus (varicella zoster) that causes chickenpox.

The shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, is effective in preventing shingles. The vaccine is given as a single dose and can be given whether or not you remember having had chickenpox in the past, or if you've had shingles in the past. Shingles vaccine is not free for older adults in New Zealand – you would need to pay for it.

The effectiveness of shingles vaccine is highest in adults 50 to 59 years of age and lowest in people aged 80 years or older.² 

Age group Vaccine efficacy against shingles
50-59 years around 70%
60-69 years around 70%
70-79 years around 41%
80 years or older around 18%

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 contractions, mainly of your jaw and neck muscles. Tetanus can interfere with your ability to breathe and can be life threatening. 

Anyone who has not received a primary course of three 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 delivered to armed forces personnel.

Booster doses of tetanus vaccine may be offered 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’ll need to pay a small administration fee. Ask your doctor or nurse for more information. Read more about tetanus.

Learn more

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

References

  1. Pneumococcal vaccine for adults: Pneumovax23 BPAC, April 2011
  2. Quick answers to frequent Zostavax questions  Immunisation Advisory Centre
  3. The diagnosis and management of herpes zoster and its complications BPAC March, 2014