There are many shots, or vaccinations, that may keep you from getting sick. Some of these shots may also protect you from getting a serious form of an illness. Here is a list of shots that may keep you healthy. Talk to your doctor about which ones you need.
Flu is the short name for influenza. It can cause fever, chills, sore throat, and stuffy nose, as well as headache and muscle aches. It’s easy to pass from person to person. Flu is very serious when it gets in your lungs. That’s why it’s important for everyone 6 months and older to get the flu shot each year.
You need a flu shot every year for two reasons. First, flu viruses change. Each year’s virus may be just a little different. If the virus changes, the vaccine used in the flu shot is changed. Second, the protection you get from a flu shot lessens with time, especially in older people.
It takes a while for the flu shot to start protecting you, so you should get your flu shot between September and November. Then you will be protected when the winter flu season starts.
Pneumococcal disease is a serious infection that is spread from person to person by droplets in the air. It can cause pneumonia in your lungs, or it can affect other parts of the body. People 65 and older should get a pneumococcal shot. It’s safe and can be given at the same time as the flu shot. Most people only need the shot once. But, if you were younger than 65 when you had the shot, you may need a second shot to stay protected.
Some illnesses or treatments can weaken your immune system. It's important to talk to a doctor who knows your health history before taking any vaccine.
Getting a shot is the best way to keep from getting tetanus and diphtheria. Tetanus (sometimes called lockjaw) is caused by bacteria found in soil, dust, and manure. It enters the body through cuts in the skin.
Diphtheria is also caused by bacteria. It can affect the tonsils, throat, nose, or skin. It can spread from person to person. Diphtheria is a very serious illness.
Most people get their first shots for tetanus and diphtheria as children. For adults, a booster shot keeps you protected; it’s important to get it every 10 years. Ask your doctor if you need a booster shot.
If you had chickenpox when you were young, the virus is still in your body. When you are older, the virus may become active again, and you can develop shingles. Shingles causes a rash or blisters on the body or face. It can be a very painful disease. Even when the rash disappears, the pain can stay. Now there is a shot for people 50 or older that may prevent shingles. Ask your doctor if you should get the shingles vaccine.
The vaccine given to children to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella has made these diseases rare. Measles, mumps, and rubella are often more serious in adults than in children. If you don’t know if you’ve had the diseases or the shot, you can still get the vaccine.
Common side effects for all these shots are mild and include pain, swelling, or redness on the arm where the shot was given. It’s a good idea to keep your own shot record listing the types and dates of your shots, as well as any side effects or problems.
Check with your doctor or local health department about the shots that you need if you’re going to travel to other countries. Sometimes a series of shots is needed. It's best to get them early, at least 2 weeks before your travel. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/travel, or call the information line for international travelers at 1-800-232-4636.
Most of the illnesses listed in this fact sheet are hard on adults. Take the time to protect yourself by keeping your vaccinations up-to-date.
Here are some helpful resources:
American Lung Association
1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612
Bethesda, MD 20892-6612
For more information on health and aging, including free brochures about shingles and flu, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
NIH...Turning Discovery into Health ®
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: December 2011
Page Last Updated: April 25, 2013