What vaccines are recommended for seniors over 65?

1. Flu Vaccine

What is it?

As we grow older, our ability to fight off infections becomes weaker because our immune system becomes weaker. A weak immune system can make it more likely for us to get sick due to infections like flu, pneumonia or shingles. These infections can worsen existing conditions, lead to hospitalizations and even death. Vaccines are one way in which we can boost our immune system and protect ourselves from infections.

There are 2 types of flu vaccines recommended for seniors over 65 years of age:

  1. The standard dose flu vaccine (also known as Fluviral or Agriflu)
  2. The high dose flu vaccine (Fluzone), which is recommended over standard, but is not currently covered in BC

 

Who should get the flu vaccine?

While the flu shot is recommended for anyone over 65 years of age, it is even more important for you to get the flu shot if you are at high risk of serious illness from influenza, such as:

  • Residents of any age living in residential care, assisted living or other group facilities
  • Heart or lung disorders such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cystic fibrosis
  • Kidney disease, chronic liver disease such as hepatitis, diabetes, cancer, anemia, or weakened immune system
  • People with severe brain damage, spinal cord injury, seizures or neuromuscular disorders
  • Any caregiver who is looking after seniors

 

Is it covered for me?

In BC, the standard dose flu vaccine is covered for all seniors but the high dose flu vaccine is not currently covered.

 

Where can I get it?

Most pharmacies and doctor’s offices are able to provide the flu shot to you. Your nearest public health unit can also provide you with your yearly flu shot!

 

How often do I need to get it?

The flu vaccine is usually one vaccination per year, usually starting in October. For best protection, get immunized as soon as possible.

 

2. Pneumomcoccal Vaccine

What is it?

Pneumococcal infection, commonly known as pneumonia is caused by a bacteria named Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumonia usually affects the lung but in severe cases of infection, can also affect the brain and cause hospitalization or death. Pneumonia spreads from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, close contact or through the saliva.

There are currently 2 pneumococcal vaccines available in Canada:

  1. PCV13: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine: protection against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria
  2. PPV23: Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine: protection against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria

 

Who should get it?

  1. PCV13: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine is recommended for adults, such as seniors over 65, who have certain medical conditions that can put them at higher risk for pneumococcal disease.
  2. PPV23: Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine is recommended for all seniors over 65

 

Is it covered for me?

  1. Currently, the Prevnar 13 (Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine) is not covered for seniors in BC. However, your extended health plan may cover this vaccine for you or you may choose to pay for this vaccine if you’d like to receive it.
  2. Pneumovax 23 (Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine) is provided free to seniors over 65 years of age in BC.

 

Where can I get it?

Most pharmacies and doctor’s offices are able to provide the pneumonia shot to you. Your nearest public health unit can also provide you with your pneumonia shot.

 

When and how often do I need to get it?

  • At the very least, every senior over 65 years of age should receive the Pneumovax 23 (free of cost) once in their lifetime.
  • A second dose of the Pneumovax 23 vaccine may be necessary in some individuals after 5 years depending on changes in your medical condition.
  • If you received the Pneumovax 23 before you turned 65, you may require a 2nd dose of this vaccine
  • If you have not yet received your pneumonia vaccines, you may choose to receive Prevnar 13 first then the Pneumovax 23 (free of cost) after 8 weeks in order to have immunity against more types of pneumonia causing diseases.
  • If you have already received the Pneumovax 23 (free of cost), you can receive the Prevnar 13 after one year, in order to have immunity against more types of pneumonia causing diseases.

 

3. Shingles Vaccine

What is it?

  • Shingles is a painful skin rash with blisters. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. This virus sits near your nerves and can become active as we get older.
  • 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime, and it is most common in those who are 50 years of age or older.
  • In the elderly, shingles is usually more severe, more painful and can last longer.
  • 1 in 5 people who get shingles may have severe nerve pain that lasts months to years after the rash has cleared. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.
  • Shingles can also cause pneumonia (an infection of the lungs), loss of hearing or vision, scarring, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or death.

There are currently 2 vaccines for shingles in BC, recommended for adults 50 years and older:

  1. Shingrix: new vaccine, over 97% effective
  2. Zostavax: older vaccine, about 50% effective

 

Who should get it?

Shingrix

  • Shingrix is currently recommended for adults, 50 years and older who:
    • Have not previously received vaccination for shingles.
    • Have previously received Zostavax II® at least one year ago.
    • Have had shingles disease at least one year ago.
    • Are not sure if they had chickenpox (varicella) infection in the past.
  • If you currently have shingles, you may have to wait for at least 1 year before you can get vaccinated

Zostavax II

Zostavax II® can still be considered for adults 50 years of age or older who cannot get Shingrix® due to:

  • A life-threatening reaction to a dose of Shingrix® vaccine or any part of the vaccine
  • If the Shingrix® vaccine is unavailable

Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about the shingles vaccines.

 

Is it covered for me?

Shingrix and Zostavax are currently not covered in BC. The shingrix vaccine costs about $150/dose and is available for purchase from some pharmacies and travel clinics. Zostavax II costs $200/dose.

Some health insurance plans may cover the cost of these vaccines; please check with your insurance provider.

 

Where can I get it?

Most pharmacies and doctor’s offices are able to provide the vaccine to you. Please check with your healthcare providers to ensure they have these vaccines available in their offices/pharmacies.

 

How often do I need to get it?

  • Shingrix: The vaccine is given as two doses, at least two to six months apart.
  • Zostavax II: This vaccine is given as one dose