Vaccines you need after age 50

It’s not just babies and teenagers who need a jab to prevent serious and potentially fatal illness. Adults need them too, especially as our immune systems weaken as we age.

You already know it’s important to get your annual flu shot, preferably before the end of October. When you get your vaccine, it’s a good time to make sure you’re up to date on all the other immunizations you should receive as an adult.

So what shots should be taken if you are 50 and over?

“New vaccines have emerged over the past few years specifically for older adults,” says Morgan Katz, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Take the new RSV vaccine approved in May, for example. Another is Shingrix, a very effective shingles vaccine. There are also some pneumococcal vaccines on the market.

Below you’ll find the vaccinations that every adult needs, followed by two vaccines (Hepatitis A vaccine and Hepatitis B vaccine) that you only need if you have certain risk factors.

Vaccines you don’t need
What won’t you see on the list? Measles and chickenpox vaccines. Anyone born before 1957 does not need dietary vaccinations because the disease was so common while they were growing up that adults are presumed immune, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is no presumed immunity Adults should be vaccinated with at least one dose of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

Katz said chickenpox is similar in that most adults have developed immunity to the disease from childhood exposure.

“Nearly all adults over the age of 40 have been exposed to chickenpox,” she said, noting that it is “extremely rare” for adults not to have been exposed to chickenpox. That said, if you think you might be in this tiny minority, ask your doctor about getting the chickenpox vaccine as an adult.

For the rest of the list, you can get necessary injections at your doctor’s office, pharmacy, workplace, community health clinic and other locations. Most health insurance plans will cover the cost. So stop and let them stick it to you.

What vaccines do adults need?
Discuss your specific needs with your health care provider. Adult vaccines to consider include:

1. Flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is an annual necessity for people over 50 years old. The flu can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia, which is especially dangerous for older adults. Getting an annual flu shot can help reduce the risk of infection and its associated complications.

2. Shingles vaccine. Shingles is a painful and debilitating disease caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. The risk of shingles increases with age, and the vaccine, usually in the form of Shingrix, can significantly reduce the chance of developing this painful disease.

3. Pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumococcal disease can cause severe respiratory infections and pneumonia. There are two different pneumococcal vaccines recommended for adults over 50 years of age – Pneumovax 23 and Prevnar 13. These vaccines provide protection against a range of pneumococcal strains.

4. Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. The Tdap vaccine protects against not only tetanus and diphtheria, but also pertussis (whooping cough). For older adults, whooping cough can be serious and even life-threatening, so it is crucial to get this vaccine promptly.

5. Hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can cause liver damage. Although the hepatitis B vaccine is more common among younger people, adults over 50 with certain risk factors (such as diabetes or certain medical conditions) may benefit from the hepatitis B vaccine.

6. Meningococcal vaccine. Meningococcal disease is rare but can be serious. Older adults with certain medical conditions or who live in close proximity (such as in college dormitories or long-term care facilities) may need the meningococcal vaccine to prevent this potentially fatal infection.

7. COVID-19 vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of vaccines. Older adults are at higher risk for serious illness and complications from the virus. To protect yourself and those around you, it’s important to get COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

8. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Although HPV vaccination is generally associated with younger people, some people may still benefit from it after age 50. HPV can cause various cancers, and if you were not vaccinated early in life, discuss this possibility with your health care provider.

Vaccines are an important part of staying healthy as we age. They can help prevent serious illness, prevent complications, and ultimately improve our quality of life. Talk to your health care provider to determine which vaccine is right for you based on your age, medical history, and specific risk factors. Remember, staying up to date with recommended vaccinations is a positive step toward a healthier, more energetic life after age 50.


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