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 from these otherwise preventable infections.

There are six vaccines that should be part of the vaccination schedules of most 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

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Anywhere from 8,000 to 22,000 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 75% of hospitalizations occur in this age group.

CDC Recommendations

People 65 and over are advised to get their flu shot annually, rather than the nasal flu vaccine. There are two recommended vaccines for this age group:

  • Fluzone high-dose vaccine, which contains for 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.

Even if it is not flu season, you should still be sure that you've had a flu shot within the past 12 months if you plan to be around children under 2. Despite what some people think, influenza viruses can circulate year-round.

2

Tdap Vaccine

If you have a grandchild on the way, you will likely be advised to get the Tdap vaccine, which protects against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis ("whooping cough").

This is because pertussis tends to have milder hay fever-like symptoms outside of 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 one year of age who get pertussis have to be hospitalized.

Even if you have no grandchildren, the CDC recommends that everyone get the Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster vaccine every 10 years and that one of the shots involves the Tdap vaccine.

CDC Recommendation

There are two Tdap vaccines that can be used in adults 65 and over:

  • Boosterix, the preferred option, offers the same protection against pertussis as the DTaP vaccine used in children.
  • Adacel, a reasonable alternative if Boosterix is not available, elicits an acceptable but less robust immune response to pertussis.
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, the complication of which is more likely to cause death the older you get.

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.

While more than 90% of U.S. children under 3 are fully vaccinated against pneumococcus, the rate is much lower for adults 65 and over.

CDC Recommendation

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

  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), recommended for adults 65 and over
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), recommended for older adults who are immunocompromised and given as part of a two-shot series (PCV13 first, followed by PPSV23 at least one year later)
4

Shingles Vaccine

If you are over 60, 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. 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.

Although children under 1 and pregnant women are vulnerable to severe complications from chickenpox, they shouldn't get the vaccine due to potential harm. Instead, they have to rely on everyone around them to help keep them safe—including you.

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 2 to 6 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 as common in the United States until the measles vaccine became widely available. Through mass vaccination campaigns, measles outbreaks became increasingly uncommon in the United States, 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 4 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 16 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 for March 2021, COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use in people 16 and over. Adults 65 and over are given priority and provided one of the following options:

A Word From Verywell

With the exception of the COVID-19 vaccines, most of the abovelisted vaccines 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
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Article Sources
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu & people 65 years and older. Updated January 28, 2021.

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

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  5. 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.

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

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