Immunisation is a very important aspect of health promotion for seniors. This is due to the immune system becoming less effective as we age, as well as being at an increased risk of severe disease.
The following vaccines are provided free via the NIP to adults and seniors aged 65 years and over:
- influenza (flu)
The flu is a respiratory virus that can cause severe infections and complications even in healthy people. For older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions, the risk of severe disease and death is even higher.
People with the flu can have a fever, cough, headache, muscle aches or feel more tired than usual. Older people often experience confusion.
Flu vaccines for people over 65 years of age contain a special ingredient called an adjuvant, which increases the immune response. Having a flu vaccine every year is free and a safe way to stay protected.
Pneumococcal is a bacteria that can live in a person’s nose or mouth without causing symptoms. When it spreads to other parts of the body it can cause serious infections in the brain (meningitis), ears, blood (sepsis), lungs (pneumonia), bones (osteomyelitis) and other areas. Older people are among those most at risk of severe infection and even death.
There are 2 pneumococcal vaccines available to protect older people against infection. Prevenar 13® protects against 13 types of the bacteria with Pneumovax®23 protecting against 23 types. Older people can receive Prevenar 13® once they turn 70 years of age, or earlier if they have certain risk factors (like a medical condition). Pneumovax®23 is reserved only for those who have certain medical conditions or other risk factors.
Shingles (herpes zoster) is as a very painful, blistering rash that can only be experienced by people who have previously had a chicken pox (varicella) infection. After you recover from the chicken pox, the virus can stay sleeping (dormant) in the nerves and be “reactivated” later in life to cause symptoms.
A shingles rash typically appears along a line where the nerve is. Before the rash appears, the site can feel very itchy, painful or tingle. Other symptoms can include a fever, headache or feeling generally unwell (malaise).
People over 70 years of age are more likely to experience a complication of shingles called post herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is a chronic pain condition which can last for months or even up to years after the initial shingles diagnosis.
Shingles vaccination is strongly recommended to prevent shingles and potentially developing PHN. A single dose of Zostavax® is available for free on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for everyone from 70 years of age. Zostavax® is a live vaccine and therefore can not be given to anyone with a weakened immune system.
Shingrix® is another type of shingles vaccine available, however it is not provided for free and must be purchased. It can be given from 50 years of age, and 2 doses are required. Shingrix® is not a live vaccine and can be administered to those with weakened immune systems. Your provider can explain the costs involved.
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that can cause no symptoms at all, mild to moderate symptoms or severe disease resulting in hospitalisation or death. Increasing age is one of the biggest risk factors for experiencing more severe symptoms of COVID-19.
Seniors are strongly recommended to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as stay up to date with all recommended booster doses to have the best protection.
Everything you need to know
Anyone who received their last dose of tetanus or whooping cough vaccine more than 10 years ago is recommended to receive a booster dose. Booster doses come in a combination vaccine which also includes protection against diphtheria.
Vaccine records can be found online via your myGov account. It is now mandatory to report all vaccines to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), so all vaccines received since March 2021 should be visible. For records of vaccines received before this time people will need to liaise with the immunisation provider who administered those vaccines (e.g. GP)
Flu vaccines can be given on the same day as routine scheduled vaccines, travel vaccines, live vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines.
The only exception to this is having Fluad®Quad (recommended for people 65 years and older) and Shingrix (zoster (shingles) vaccine). It’s recommended that these two vaccines are given a few days apart.
As we age, immunity gained from vaccines received in childhood can decrease leaving us at risk of infections. Seniors are also more likely to have certain medical conditions like heart disease or cancers that make them more vulnerable to infection and complications. Vaccination is important to keep seniors protected and healthy.
Yes. A person can have shingles more than once in a lifetime and vaccination can reduce the likelihood of developing shingles again and therefore limit the chance of developing a complication called post-herpetic neuralgia. People who have previously had shingles should wait 12 months before being vaccinated.
Some vaccines for seniors contain an ingredient called an adjuvant which increases the immune response. This is important because an older person’s immune response to regular vaccines is often lower compared to the immune response seen in younger people. By using adjuvanted vaccines, seniors can get the protection against infections that they need.
In theory, if someone who is not immune to chickenpox is exposed to the fluid from a shingles rash, they could develop a chickenpox infection. Infection from shingles cannot be transmitted by coughing or sneezing on someone. People with active shingles rashes can cover their rash, avoid itching and wash hands frequently to avoid passing infection onto others.
Generally speaking anyone born before 1966 is thought to already have immunity against measles and therefore don’t routinely need to be vaccinated. This is because it was a time of high amounts of measles disease circulating in the community. Anyone born after 1966 should receive 2 doses of a measles-containing vaccine.