Vaccines to Get if You're Over 50
Do you think that immunizations are strictly kid stuff? Think again: While you likely got plenty of “shots” as a child, you need more after age 50. Advancing age can render you more susceptible to certain illnesses, making it necessary to get inoculated against them. In other cases, the immunity gained from a long-ago vaccine may be wearing out, and a booster shot may be required. Traveling to other areas of the globe may require still more vaccinations. We asked Susan L. Besser, M.D., of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, for a rundown of immunizations people may require after the big 5-0:
Tetanus/Diphtheria: People need this combination booster shot once every ten years, Besser says. “And at one point after you are 18, you need a combination tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis [whooping cough] booster,” she adds. (You can substitute this three-in-one shot for the tetantus/diphtheria shot for that 10-year period.)
Flu: “Everyone should have one every year,” Besser insists. Among adults, complications, hospitalization, and deaths due to flu are generally most common among those 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But adults 50 years old and over are also a priority group for vaccination, because they may have chronic medical conditions that raise their risk of severe flu.
Shingles: “The shingles shot up until recently was recommended at 60 to 65 and older, but new recommendations now say as early as 50,” Besser says. Experts say the risk of shingles rises sharply after one’s 50th birthday, and by age 85, half of unvaccinated people will have had this painful, blistering disease, that carries with it a risk of vision loss. Shingrix, a new shingles vaccine, has been shown to prevent more than 90 percent of all shingles cases, even among older people. Check with your insurance company, Besser recommends, as not all insurers will cover the cost of the shot before age 60 or 65.
Pneumonia: Two pneumonia vaccines, Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23, are recommended for people aged 65 and older. “They immunize against different subsets of the pneumococcal bacteria,” says Dr. Besser. If you have a chronic lung disease or other risk factors for pneumonia, your doctor may recommend you get the shots even before your 65th birthday.
Catch-up shots: Are you sure you got that measles or heptatitis B vaccine as a child? “There are always plenty of people who don’t know what they were immunized against,” Dr. Besser says. If you can’t access your health records, or blood work shows your immunity to some diseases has worn off, you may need booster vaccines.
Travel vaccines: If you’ll be taking an exotic vacation—say, to South America, Asia, Africa, or India—certain immunizations, such as against typhoid and hepatitis A, are required. For a list of recommendations by destination, visit https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.