Immunisation for older adults and seniors

Vaccinations are not just for children. Older adults and seniors also need immunisation. Protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time and as we get older, our immune systems tend to weaken over time, putting us at higher risk for certain diseases.

Influenza vaccine

In New Zealand, the influenza vaccine is free for New Zealanders aged 65 years and over. It is given every year because it matches the different strains of flu virus that are around that year. The new vaccine is normally available in March. 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.

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 adults 65 years or older.

In New Zealand, the vaccine that is effective against pneumococcal infection is called Pneumovax23. This 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.

Shingles vaccine

Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash usually on the chest, but can also be on the trunk, back, legs or face. It is most common in those 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, a vaccine called Zostavax is available for people over the age of 50. It reduces the risk of getting shingles and the problems it can cause — you may still get shingles but it will be less severe and the painful post-herpetic neuralgia is less likely. The vaccine may also be given after shingles to prevent it happening again. The vaccine will be funded from 1 April 2018 for people aged between 66 and 80 years old. Read more about shingles.

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 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 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.

Learn more

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

References

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