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Patient Handout

Vaccinations for people aged 65 years and over

REVIEWED BY JOHN C.B. LITT, PAUL VAN BUYNDER, Michael Woodward
OPEN ACCESS

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© VISUAL GENERATION/ SHUTTERSTOCK
© VISUAL GENERATION/ SHUTTERSTOCK

Abstract

This handout provides information on the importance of vaccination for people aged 65 years and over and the specific vaccinations that are recommended for this age group.

Why do I need to be vaccinated? 

As you get older you lose some of the immunity that you had when you were younger. Your immune system becomes less effective in protecting against disease. This means that, compared with when you were younger:

  • you are more likely to catch infections
  • they are more likely to be severe
  • you are more likely to take longer to recover
  • you are more likely to develop complications of the infections and may need to be treated in hospital.

Some infections and their complications may also make it more difficult for you to carry out your activities of daily living for a long time after the infection.

A number of infections can be particularly serious as you get older. A safe and effective way to protect yourself against these infections is to be vaccinated against them. 

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Vaccination not only protects you from getting the disease, it can also help to prevent the spread of the infection in the community. The more people in the community who are immune to a disease, the more difficult it is for that disease to spread.

Vaccinations are particularly important if you have ongoing medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, or if you missed any immunisations as a child, as you may experience more severe infections and complications in these cases.

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Occasionally people do get an infection despite being vaccinated against it. However, in these cases, the infection is usually a less serious form of the disease. You are also less likely to develop complications even if you get the disease. 

Which vaccinations do I need?

Influenza vaccination

What is influenza?

Influenza (or the flu) is a highly contagious disease caused by infection with the influenza virus. It is easily spread from person to person by sneezing or coughing, or touching contaminated objects with the virus on them. 

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If you catch influenza when you are older, you may have different symptoms than when you were younger. Fever is less common whereas cough, wheezing, chest pain and feeling confused are more common. If you have other medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), they may worsen when you get influenza, and some older people may develop serious complications such as pneumonia, a heart attack or heart failure. People over the age of 65 years are much more likely to die from influenza-related causes than younger people. 

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© VISUAL GENERATION/ SHUTTERSTOCK
© VISUAL GENERATION/ SHUTTERSTOCK
Reviewed by Associate Professor John C.B. Litt, Discipline of General Practice, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA; Professor Paul Van Buynder, School of Medicine, Griffith University, Brisbane, Qld; and Associate Professor Michael Woodward, Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, Melbourne, Vic.