Getting vaccinated against flu and pneumonia is especially important for older adults, who face a heightened risk of complications from these illnesses. Two newer versions of the vaccines are now recommended for people 65 and older. Your health care provider should discuss them with you; if not, ask about them.
High-dose flu vaccine. A study published in August 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which included nearly 32,000 people in that age group, found that the high-dose flu vaccine (Fluzone, introduced in 2010) was more effective in reducing lab-confirmed influenza than the standard flu vaccine. Both vaccines protect against three strains of influenza, but the high-dose one is four times stronger and induces a higher antibody response (this response declines with age, which is why older people get less protection from the regular vaccine).
Everyone over six months of age should get a flu shot annually, but this is especially important for people 65 and older, who have higher rates of flu-related complications and deaths. If the high-dose vaccine is not available, the regular flu shot still offers good protection for older people.
Pneumococcal vaccine. The CDC now recommends that people 65 and over receive two different types of pneumococcal vaccines—the one that has long been advised for older people, Pneumovax 23, plus a newer one called Prevnar 13. If you haven’t previously gotten the pneumococcal vaccine, you should get Prevnar first, followed by Pneumovax at least 12 months later.
Being immunized with both vaccines offers additional long-lasting protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia in older people and a cause of meningitis as well as other serious infections.
Prevnar has previously been advised for immunocompromised adults ages 19 to 64 along with all children under 2. You can get the vaccine when you receive your flu shot, if you haven’t already gotten that.
Originally published December 2014. Updated December 2016.