Vaccines For Older Adults—A Lifetime Of Good Health!

Older adults require immunizations to keep
themselves and their loved ones healthy.

Many people think that only young children need vaccinations, but did you know that there are also vaccines specifically recommended for older adults? Each year, thousands of hospitalizations and deaths among older adults can be prevented through immunization. Health officials recommend that older adults protect themselves against the following diseases:

Pertussis, or "whooping cough": Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is currently at epidemic levels in Washington state. In adults, pertussis can cause a prolonged cough illness lasting weeks or even months, leading to cough-induced vomiting, broken ribs, and sleep disturbance from coughing. While the disease can be serious for people of all ages, infants are at highest risk for severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Adults are the most common source of pertussis in infants, and that's why they are recommended to receive Tdap, a whooping cough booster vaccine. The vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria as well.

Protection from pertussis vaccine wanes over time, so even if you were vaccinated against pertussis (or had pertussis disease) during childhood, call your doctor to ask about getting Tdap. This is especially important if you have contact with infants or pregnant women.

Seasonal influenza: Influenza (flu) is a disease that affects people's airways and lungs and spreads easily from person

to person. Some of the complications caused by flu include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of long-term medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Every year in the U.S., an average of 24,000 people die from the flu—and most of these deaths are among adults 65 years and older. Get a flu shot each year—it's the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu.

Shingles: Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles, a nerve infection that causes a painful skin rash with blisters. The virus stays in the nerve cells after the chickenpox infection clears and can then reactivate years later. Pain from shingles can last for months or even years, and can cause depression, anxiety, and weight loss and impact daily activities like dressing and walking. One in three Americans will get shingles in their lifetime. People over age 60 are at higher risk. Fortunately, there is a vaccine that is recommended for people ages 60 and older, called Zostavax®. Talk to your doctor about getting the shingles vaccine.

Pneumococcal disease: Pneumococcus bacterium can cause pneumonia, blood infections, and meningitis (an infection of the spinal column and lining of the brain). It is recommended for people 65 years and older as well as persons with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, lung or heart disease, for smokers, and anybody with ongoing immune system problems. Talk to your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine.

Learn more about other important vaccines for older adults at and make it a point to talk to your doctor about your vaccination history at your next visit. Stay healthy!

—Lauren Greenfield, Public Health-Seattle & King County