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 doctor.

1

Influenza Vaccine

Grandmother lying in bed with baby

Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

Between 24,000 and 62,000 people die of influenza (flu) each year in the United States, while hundreds of thousands may be 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").

The shot is recommended because pertussis tends to have milder, hay fever-like symptoms after childhood and can go undiagnosed. Even so, the infection can still be passed to newborns in whom the infection is often serious.

According to the CDC, roughly half of all babies under 1 year of age who get pertussis have to be hospitalized.

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

Pneumococcus 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 two pneumococcal vaccines approved for use in the United States:

  • Pneumovax23 (PPSV23): The vaccine recommended for all adults 65 and older, people 2 to 64 with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 to 64 who smoke.
  • Prevnar 13 (PCV13): The vaccine is recommended for all children under 2 and those 2 to 6 with certain medical conditions. Adults 65 and over can discuss and decide with their doctor if they should get the vaccine.
4

Shingles Vaccine

If you are 50 or over, you should also talk to your doctor 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). Adults 65 and older, who are more likely to be immunocompromised, are at a 30% greater risk of hospitalization from shingles compared to those under 65.

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 DNA vaccine recommended for adults over 50, 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

If you were born before 1957 and haven't been vaccinated against measles recently, you may want to get a booster dose.

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 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.

Although older adults are far less likely to get measles, they are more likely to experience serious complications if they do. According to the CDC, one in five unvaccinated people will be hospitalized if they get measles, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

CDC Recommendation

The CDC recommends vaccination for anyone born before 1957 with no evidence of immunity to measles, mumps, or rubella. For these adults, the CDC recommends a two-dose series at least four weeks apart for measles or mumps or one dose for rubella.

6

COVID-19 Vaccine

People 65 and over are at greater risk of severe illness, complications, and death from COVID-19 than all other age groups combined. In fact, statistics show that eight of every 10 COVID-related deaths in the United States are among adults of this age group.

Vaccination is advised for all people 12 and over. As of yet, COVID-19 vaccination is not recommended for younger children until further safety and efficacy studies have been conducted.

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.

Until COVID vaccinations are approved in children, the best way to protect them is with widespread adult vaccinations.

CDC Recommendation

As of July 2021, COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use in people 12 and over. Three options are available:

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 doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Mom and Baby
Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Past seasons estimated influenza disease burden. Updated October 1, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu & people 65 years and older. Updated January 28, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine information for adults: what vaccines are recommended for you. Updated November 21, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases: pertussis. Updated April 15, 2019.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim clinical considerations for use of COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the United States. Updated July 2, 2021.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccination: What everyone should know. Updated August 7, 2020.

  7. 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, 2018. Morbidity Mortality Weekly Rep. 2020 Oct 9;69(40):1470.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About shingles (herpes zoster). Updated June 26, 2019.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles vaccination. Updated January 25, 2019.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles history. Updated February 5, 2018.

  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. Updated November 5, 2020.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older, by vaccine and age group, United States, 2021. Updated February 5, 2021.

  14. Kaiser Family Foundation. What share of people who have died of COVID-19 are 65 and older – and how does it vary by state? Published July 24, 2020.

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 in children and teens. Updated December 18, 2020.