Vaccinations and immunisation

As you get older, your immune system weakens which makes you more susceptible to illness. Some previous vaccinations you have received will also wear off over time. It is important to follow the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule to ensure you are protected from preventable illnesses.

Vaccinations protect you from illness by helping build protective antibodies in your bloodstream. By building immunity before exposure to an illness, you have a better chance of not getting sick. Many illnesses are preventable if vaccines are received at the correct time. According to the World Health Organisation, immunisation prevents 2-3 million deaths each year from preventable diseases such as influenza, measles, and tetanus. Getting vaccinated not only protects yourself, but also protects people in your community that cannot get vaccinated.

Influenza (flu)

Older people have a higher chance of serious complications from the flu. It is a contagious virus that infects the respiratory system and can be symptomatic or asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). Some common symptoms include sore throat, fever, muscle aches, headache, cough, and fatigue. While most symptoms will last up to five days, the cough and fatigue may last for two or more weeks. Older people are more vulnerable to contracting the flu and having serious complications. It kills around 400 New Zealanders each year, but the risk can be reduced by receiving an annual vaccine in Autumn, that protects against the most common strains.

Shingles

Shingles is a skin rash affecting a particular nerve caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox in the past, the virus will stay dormant in your body until you are older. While you cannot catch shingles from someone else, you can catch chickenpox from close contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles. Shingles can cause scarring and loss of vision, and may result in nerve pain long after the rash has disappeared. Older people have a greater risk of shingles because of their weaker immune system. You also have an increased risk if you have rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or diabetes. Shingles is best prevented with immunisation.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Whooping Cough Combined Vaccine

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious disease caused by bacteria found in dust, dirt, soil, and manure that enters the body through a cut or wound. This infection causes muscle stiffness, painful spasms, fever, and difficulty chewing or swallowing. Tetanus is more likely to be fatal in older people, but vaccination is the best protection from this illness. People receive three immunisation doses as a baby, two booster doses as children, and two more booster doses at 45 and 65. Booster doses are important because these immunisations wear off over time.

Diphtheria is an infection that can cause the throat to close, blocking off the airway. While diphtheria is now rare, it is highly contagious and spread by coughing, sneezing, and close contact. Symptoms of diphtheria can include fever, a thick grey or white coating at the back of the throat, difficulty breathing and swallowing, headache, a bark-like cough, and swollen glands. People should receive booster doses for diphtheria at 45 and 65 to maintain immunity.

Whooping cough or pertussis is an infection that causes coughing and choking which can make breathing difficult. Complications of whooping cough can include pneumonia and seizures. It is very contagious, and booster doses for this at age 45 and 65, are important to ensure immunity and lower the risk of complications.

Eligibility for Free Vaccines

According to the National Immunisation Schedule, people who are 65 years old should receive:

  • A free and recommended combined vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTaP)
  • A free and recommended vaccination for shingles
  • A flu vaccination, which is free and recommended every year from the age of 65

To receive vaccinations, contact your doctor.

Websites of interest

Find your nearest Age Concern