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

Figures

© 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.

Your doctor will let you know if you can have this vaccine as it should not be given if you have specific uncommon medical conditions that significantly reduce your immunity (this is called being immunocompromised). A new vaccine is on the horizon that can be used in people who are immunocompromised but this will not be available for some years. 

In the meantime, however, as the disease is so serious, you should not delay in having the currently available vaccine if your doctor advises it is safe for you to do so. You should ask your doctor whether this vaccine is safe for you. Shingles vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines, such as influenza or pneumococcal vaccine. 

The shingles vaccine is a live vaccine containing virus particles that have been greatly weakened and altered. In older people with a normal immune system, the risk of getting shingles from the vaccination is extremely low. The most common side effects of the vaccine are minor swelling and redness at the injection site. 

Booster vaccinations against pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria

Booster vaccinations against whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus and diphtheria are recommended if you have not had one in the past 10 years. A booster vaccine is an extra dose of a vaccine that you had when you were younger. If you missed having vaccinations for these infections when you were younger, you will need a full course of the vaccine. Your doctor will advise you on the vaccine recommended for you. 

A vaccine is available that protects against all three infections. It is not covered under the NIP, so you would have to pay for this vaccine.

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The vaccine is not a live vaccine, and so you cannot get these diseases from vaccination. The most common side effects are pain and a hardened area or swelling at the injection site.

Pertussis

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease caused by infection with the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is spread by breathing in aerosols if you are close to an infected person. The infection can be serious, particularly in young infants and in older people, and it can result in complications such as pneumonia, brain damage and even death. 

The risk of getting whooping cough is high, and any protection that you might have had when you were younger wanes over time. For this reason, booster vaccinations against pertussis are recommended for people aged 65 years and older if they have not been given one in the past 10 years. Vaccination is also important if you have contact with infants, who are at a high risk of contracting the infection. 

An additional advantage of having the pertussis vaccine is that you also get a boost to your immunity against tetanus and diphtheria, as the three vaccines are combined. 

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Tetanus 

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by a bacterium found in soil called Clostridium tetani. These bacteria can enter an exposed wound, where they produce a toxin that causes painful muscle spasm, especially around the neck and jaw (lockjaw). This can be life-threatening. 

A booster dose against tetanus is recommended for adults who have not had vaccine with tetanus in it in the past 10 years, or who have a tetanus-prone wound.

Diphtheria 

Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The infection causes an upper respiratory tract infection that can result in an obstruction in the throat. The bacterium also produces a toxin that can cause heart failure and paralysis.

A booster dose against diphtheria is recommended for adults who have not had a vaccine with diphtheria in it in the past 10 years. See Box for Further Information.   MT

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