Open Access
Patient Handout

Vaccinations for people aged 65 years and over

Open Access
Patient Handout

Vaccinations for people aged 65 years and over

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

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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.

How can I protect myself against influenza?

Annual influenza vaccination is strongly recommended for people aged 65 years and older. Vaccination is needed every year, as the virus strains keep changing and a new vaccine must be made to match these. As well as protecting you against influenza, vaccination also reduces the risk of both having to be hospitalised for treatment and developing complications. Getting the influenza vaccine each year does not weaken the immune system. 

Two new enhanced influenza vaccines are available for older people. One of these is available free of charge to people 65 years and over on the National Immunisation Program (NIP). You cannot get influenza from the vaccine because it does not contain any live virus – it is an inactivated vaccine. The most common side effects of enhanced influenza vaccination are swelling, redness and pain at the injection site.

Vaccination against pneumococcal disease

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus). Many people carry pneumococcus in their nose and throat and may have no symptoms, but the bacteria can spread within the body and cause pneumonia, meningitis (infection of the brain covering) and septicaemia (blood infection). The infection can be spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing or contact with mucus from the throat or mouth of an infected person. 

How can I protect myself against pneumococcal disease?

Because older people are particularly susceptible to pneumococcus infection, vaccination against it is recommended when you reach 65 years of age.

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A single dose of pneumococcal vaccine, which is effective against 23 of the most common strains of pneumococcus infecting older people, is available free of charge under the NIP for people aged 65 years and older. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can receive the vaccine from the age of 50 years under the NIP.

If you have other risk factors, you may need more doses or a different version of the vaccine. Your doctor will advise you on the vaccine and doses recommended for you.

The pneumococcal vaccine contains no live bacteria, and so you cannot get pneumococcal disease from the vaccination. The most common side effects of pneumococcal vaccination are soreness, swelling and redness at the injection site.

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Shingles vaccination

What is shingles?

Shingles (or herpes zoster) is a serious disease caused by reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox – the varicella zoster virus. The first infection with the virus causes chickenpox. The virus then hides in the nerve root next to your spinal cord and is kept in check by the immune system. When a person’s immune system is weakened (e.g. with ageing, some medical conditions or when taking certain medicines), the virus can be reactivated and cause damage to the nerve root. It then travels along the nerves to the skin, causing shingles.

People with shingles develop a blistering, painful rash in a narrow strip on one or other side of their body, commonly on their chest or abdomen. The associated pain can significantly affect quality of life. Shingles can also lead to serious complications, the most common being ongoing severe pain called postherpetic neuralgia that can last for several years. This is more common the older you are, is very difficult to treat, can lead to spells in hospital and has a significant effect on your quality of life. Other complications of shingles can include stroke and, depending where the rash is located, hearing loss and blindness.

How can I protect myself against shingles?

Vaccination against shingles is the only way to protect against both the disease and postherpetic neuralgia. Shingles vaccination is recommended for adults aged 60 years or older, and is particularly recommended for those aged 70 to 79 years. It is available free of charge on the NIP at age 70 years or, until 2021, if you are aged 71 to 79 years. 

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