The 6 Vaccines All Grandparents Should Get

Though anyone can get the flu and other infectious diseases, older adults are at an increased risk of severe illness if they do. If you are 65 or older, getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself (and your families) from preventable infections.

There are six vaccines that should be part of the vaccination schedules of most older adults. If you haven't had them (or are unsure if you are up to date), speak with your healthcare provider.

1

Influenza Vaccine

Grandmother lying in bed with baby

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In recent years, between 22,000 and 61,000 people have died of influenza (flu) each year in the United States, while hundreds of thousands have been hospitalized from this ever-evolving respiratory infection.

Older adults are at the highest risk of severe illness and death from flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 70% and 85% of flu-related deaths are in adults 65 and over, while 50% to 70% of hospitalizations occur in this age group.

CDC Recommendations

People 65 and over are advised by the CDC to get a flu shot annually rather than the nasal flu vaccine. There is no preference as to the type of vaccine used, but there are two vaccines approved solely for use in this age group:

  • Fluzone high-dose vaccine, which contains four times the amount of the inactivated virus used in the standard flu vaccine
  • Fluad adjuvanted vaccine, which contains an additive (known as an adjuvant) that provokes a stronger immune response

Grandparents need to get the flu shot not just to protect themselves but also the youngest members of their families. Until babies receive their first dose at 6 months, they are extremely vulnerable to flu complications.

2

Tdap Vaccine

If you have a grandchild on the way, you will likely be advised to get the Tdap vaccine if you did not receive the vaccine as an adolescent. The vaccine protects against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis ("whooping cough").

Protecting yourself against pertussis is especially important, as it can be passed to newborns in whom the infection is often serious.

Children younger than age 2 months accounted for 84.0% of pertussis deaths reported to the CDC from 2000-2017.

Even if you have no grandchildren, the CDC recommends that everyone get the Tdap or Td (tetanus-diphtheria) vaccine every 10 years. At least one of the vaccinations should be with the Tdap vaccine.

CDC Recommendation

There are two Tdap vaccines approved for use in the United States:

  • Boostrix: Approved for ages 10 and over
  • Adacel: Approved for age 10 to 64

Of the two, Boostrix is the only one approved for ages 65 and over.

3

Pneumococcal Vaccine

While pertussis is often passed from adults to young children, pneumococcus—a bacterium that can cause pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, and other severe illnesses—can often be passed from children to older adults.

In children, pneumococcus generally causes mild illnesses like ear infections. But, in older adults, pneumococcus is a leading cause of pneumonia, which is more likely to cause death the older you are.

According to the CDC, the risk of death from pneumonia in people 75 to 84 is three times that of people 65 to 74. In people 85 and over, the risk increases by over 10-fold compared to the 65-74 age group.

CDC Recommendation

There are four pneumococcal vaccines approved for use in the U.S., however, only three are recommended for older adults:

  • PCV15 (Vaxneuvance) or PCV20 (Prevnar 20), is recommended for all adults 65 years or older and those ages 19 to 64 years with certain risk factors or medical conditions.
  • PPSV23 (Pneumovax23) is recommended for all adults 19 years and older who get the PCV15 vaccine.
4

Shingles Vaccine

If you are 50 or over, you should also talk to your healthcare provider about getting the shingles vaccine. This is true even if you've already had shingles (a.k.a. herpes zoster) in the past.

Though shingles rarely causes death, it can be extremely painful and lead to serious complications (including post-herpetic neuropathic pain and herpes zoster ophthalmicus). Older adults and those who are immunocompromised are more likely to be hospitalized for shingles.

While you can't give shingles to your grandchildren, you can give them chickenpox if you have not been vaccinated. This is because the two diseases are caused by the same virus. When you are infected with chickenpox—which almost everyone born before 1980 has been—the virus stays dormant in your body and can reactivate later in life to cause shingles.

CDC Recommendation

There is currently only one shingles vaccine approved for use in the United States:

  • Shingrix, a recombinant vaccine recommended for adults 50 and older, is given in two separate injections two to six months apart.

Zostavax, a live vaccine previously recommended for shingles prevention, has been discontinued in the United States as of November 18, 2020.

Even if you have gotten the Zostavax vaccine in the past, you should still get the Shingrix vaccine.

5

MMR Vaccine

Its recommended that those ages 19 to 64 years of age who were born in 1957 or later with no evidence of immunity to measles, mumps, or rubella, receive one to two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Measles used to be common in the United States until the measles vaccine became widely available. Through mass vaccination campaigns, measles outbreaks became increasingly rare, and the disease was officially declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

With that said, the spread of anti-vaccination ("anti-vaxxing") messages has led to a steep decline in the use of the MMR (measles, mump, and rubella) vaccine. As a result, measles had made a big comeback, not only in the United States but abroad.

Older adults are more likely to experience serious complications if they do get measles. According to the CDC, one in five unvaccinated people born in 1957 or later will be hospitalized if they get measles, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

CDC Recommendation

The CDC recommends vaccination for anyone born in 1957 or later with no evidence of immunity to measles, mumps, or rubella. For these adults, the CDC recommends one or two doses, at least four weeks apart.

6

COVID-19 Vaccine

Vaccination is advised for all people 6 months and over. Although younger children are far less likely to develop severe symptoms if infected, that shouldn't suggest that they are inherently "safe" from COVID-19. While many will have mild or no symptoms, some babies and younger children do end up in the hospital. This is especially true for children with asthma, diabetes, and congenital heart disease, among other pre-existing conditions.

CDC Recommendation

There are four COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States. Each is delivered by intramuscular injection. As of April 2022 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized or approved the following COVID-19 vaccines:


According to the CDC, everyone ages 6 months and older should get their primary series of COVID-19 vaccine, and those ages 5 years and older should also receive a first booster dose. Persons 12 years and older who are immunocompromised for certain reasons and all adults 50 and older can choose to receive a second mRNA booster dose four months after their first booster dose.

A Word From Verywell

Most of the vaccines discussed above are available at your local pharmacy. Even so, check with your primary care provider before getting vaccinated. While vaccination is safe for the majority of adults, it's a good idea to check if you have an allergy or medical condition that would contraindicate certain vaccines.

Your provider can also let you know if there are other vaccines you should get beyond what is listed above.

Vaccines Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Mom and Baby
17 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu & people 65 years and older.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine information for adults: what vaccines are recommended for you.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases: pertussis.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccination: What everyone should know.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: death rates from influenza and pneumonia among persons aged ≥65 years, by sex and age group — National Vital Statistics System, United States. Morbidity Mortality Weekly Rep.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal vaccination.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About shingles (herpes zoster).

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles vaccination.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles history.

  11. Benecke O, DeYoung SE. Anti-vaccine decision-making and measles resurgence in the United States. Glob Pediatr Health. 2019;6:2333794X19862949. doi:10.1177/2333794X19862949

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Complications of measles.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older, by vaccine and age group, United States.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Different COVID-19 vaccines.

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 in children and teens.

  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim clinical considerations for use of COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the United States.

  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

By Robyn Correll, MPH
Robyn Correll, MPH holds a master of public health degree and has over a decade of experience working in the prevention of infectious diseases.