Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

8 Vaccines You Need After 50

​Check out this list of what you need and when


spinner image checklist on mobile phone and bandaids to signify vaccines given
Getty Images

You already know it’s important to get your flu vaccine every year, ideally by the end of October. And when you go in for the shot, it’s a great time to make sure you’re up-to-date on all the other immunizations you should be receiving as an adult.

After all, it’s not just babies and youngsters who need a poke to protect against serious, and potentially lethal, diseases. Adults need them too, especially as our immune systems weaken with age.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

Join AARP for $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine

Join Now

So what shots should you get at 50 and beyond?

“There are new vaccines that have come out in the past several years, specifically aimed at older adults,” says Morgan Katz, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Take for example, the new RSV vaccine, which was approved in May. Another is Shingrix, the amazingly effective shingles vaccine. And a few pneumococcal vaccines are on the market as well.

Below you’ll find the vaccinations every adult needs, followed by two — for hepatitis A and B — that you need only if you have certain risk factors.

What you won’t see on the list? Measles and chickenpox vaccines. Anyone born before 1957 doesn’t need a measles vaccine because the disease was so prevalent when they grew up that immunity as an adult is assumed, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says adults who do not have presumed immunity should get at least one dose of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.  

Chickenpox is similar in that most adults already have immunity from childhood exposure to the disease, Katz says.

“Almost all adults over 40 have been exposed to chickenpox,” she says, noting that it would be “an extremely rare case” for an adult not to have been. That said, if you think you could be in that tiny minority, ask your doctor about getting the chickenpox vaccine as an adult.

For the rest of the list, you can get your necessary shots at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics and other locations. And most health insurance plans will pick up the tab. So stop in and let ’em stick it to you. 

1. Influenza Vaccine

Who needs it: All adults, no matter the age.

How often: Once a year. “The virus itself changes every year,” Katz says. “Researchers try to predict what will be the most common strain that season, then reformulate the vaccine accordingly.” Flu season typically begins in October and ends in March, so the  CDC recommends rolling up your sleeve by the end of October, since it takes about two weeks after a vaccination for flu-fighting antibodies to develop in the body. 

What you need: Adults 65 and older should make sure they receive a high-dose version of the shot. The options include:

  • Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent is an injectable vaccine that contains four times the antigen (the flu proteins that our immune system recognizes and attacks) of a standard-dose inactivated flu vaccine, to help create a stronger immune response.
  • Fluad Quadrivalent is an adjuvanted flu vaccine, made with an MF59 adjuvant, an additive that creates a more robust immune response.
  • Flublok Quadrivalent. This is a recombinant vaccine, which means it does not require an egg-grown virus and does not use chicken eggs in the manufacturing process. This may be a good option if you are allergic to eggs (the Fluzone and Fluad offerings are grown in eggs). Flublok Quadrivalent contains three times the antigen of other standard-dose inactivated flu vaccines.

Why you need it: Each year, the flu is to blame for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths, and older adults are at higher risk for these serious outcomes. Fifty to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur among people 65 and older, according to the CDC, and 70 to 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur among this age group.

Talk to your doctor if: You’ve had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past, are allergic to eggs, have (or have had) Guillain-Barré syndrome, or have a fever. (In that case, you’ll likely be asked to wait until your temp is back to normal before you get the vaccine.)

Parting shot: Even if you’re vaccinated, there’s a possibility you could get the flu. How well the inoculation protects depends on different factors, including your age and health status. That said, a flu vaccination may lessen the severity of illness if you do get sick. A 2017 study found that flu vaccination reduced intensive care unit admissions and the length of hospital stays among flu patients, especially older adults. It also reduced death.​

2. COVID-19 Vaccine

Who needs it: It's recommended for everyone 6 months and older, and especially for people 50 and older, who are considered to be at increased risk for complications from a coronavirus infection

Find COVID-19 Vaccines in Your State

AARP's 53 state and territory COVID-19 vaccine guides can help you find vaccines near you and provide the latest answers to common questions about costs, eligibility and availability.

How often: Health officials haven’t set a schedule for COVID-19 vaccines, but it’s likely the shot will become an annual one for many, much like the flu vaccine. For now, the advice from health experts is to “stay up to date” on your vaccines. Updated COVID-19 shots were recently approved and are now available in doctor's’ offices and pharmacies throughout the country.

What you need: An updated COVID-19 vaccine from either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

Why you need it: COVID-19 has killed more than 1.1 million Americans since it started circulating in the U.S. and has hospitalized millions of others. It’s especially risky for adults 50 and older, who are more likely to suffer complications from an infection.

Talk to your doctor if: You’ve had a severe allergic reaction to a medication or vaccine in the past.

Parting shot: Make it easy on yourself and get your COVID-19 vaccine when you go in for your flu shot. Experts say there’s no need to schedule a separate appointment.

See more Health & Wellness offers >

3. RSV vaccine

Who needs it: Adults 60 and older should talk to their doctor to see if this new vaccine, which protects against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), is a good option for them.

How often: For now, you need to get it only once. However, the RSV vaccine is new this year, so recommendations could change.

What you need: Two vaccines have been approved for older adults: Arexvy, from manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, and Abrysvo, from drugmaker Pfizer.

Why you need it: RSV is often associated with children, but it can be especially dangerous for older adults, too. Each year it causes 60,000 to 160,000 hospitalizations and 6,000 to 10,000 deaths among adults 65 and older, according to the CDC. In clinical trials, the vaccines were found to significantly reduce the risk of serious symptoms from an infection.  

Talk to your doctor if: The CDC recommends that patients talk to their doctors before getting this vaccine to make sure it’s right for them — this is sometimes called “shared clinical decision-making” (SCDM). The guideline grants some “flexibility for providers and patients to consider individual risk for RSV disease, while taking into account patient preferences,” the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) writes in its recommendation. 

Parting shot: The vaccine could be especially helpful when it comes to avoiding a fall/winter “tripledemic”— a name used to describe the convergence of flu, COVID-19 and RSV, like we saw in the fall of 2022.

4. Pneumococcal vaccine

Who needs it: Healthy adults 65 and older, or adults 19-64 with certain risk factors (smoking, or health problems, such as chronic lung or heart disease, leukemia, lymphoma or alcoholism).

How often: Adults who haven’t received a pneumococcal vaccine should opt for either the PCV15 or PCV20. If PCV15 is used, it should be followed by a dose of PPSV23 a year later. (If you're immunocompromised, you may get it sooner.) 

Why you need it: Before COVID-19 came along, pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia, killed more people in the U.S. each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Young children and those over 65 have the highest incidence of serious illness, and older adults are more likely to die from it. Experts estimate PCV13 (one of the pneumococcal vaccines available) prevented more than 30,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease and 3,000 deaths in its first three years of use.

Parting shot: If you work around chronically ill people — say, in a hospital or nursing home — you should get the vaccine, even if you’re healthy.

5. Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) and/or the Td booster (tetanus, diphtheria)

Who needs it: The Tdap vaccine came out in 2005, and along with protecting against tetanus and diphtheria, like the vaccine it replaced, it includes additional protection against whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

If you can’t remember ever getting this shot, you probably need it. Doing so, Katz says, can count for one of the Td boosters you’re supposed to get every 10 years. (You know the one ... it’s the shot you wonder if you’re current on after you step on a rusty nail during your vacation.)

How often: Adults should receive a booster dose of either Tdap or Td (a different vaccine that protects against tetanus and diphtheria, but not pertussis) every 10 years, the CDC says, or after five years if you get a severe wound or burn.

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

LEARN MORE ABOUT AARP MEMBERSHIP.

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Why you need it: Due to a rise in whooping cough cases in the U.S., you really do need to be vaccinated against it, even if you’re over 65. In the first year after getting vaccinated, Tdap prevents the illness in about 7 out of 10 people who received the vaccine. 

Talk to your doctor if: You have epilepsy or other nervous system problems, had severe swelling or pain after a previous dose of either vaccine, or have (or have had) Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Parting shot: This vaccine is especially crucial for people — including parents, grandparents and child care providers — who have close contact with children younger than 12 months of age.

6. Shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine

Who needs it: The CDC recommends that everyone 50 and older get the Shingrix shingles vaccine, even if they had the earlier recommended vaccine, Zostavax — which was much less effective — and even if they’ve already had shingles. 

How often: Shingrix comes in two doses, spaced two to six months apart. 

Why you need it: One in 3 people will get shingles, usually after age 50. The risk rises with age. By 85, half of adults will have had at least one outbreak. Chicken pox and shingles are caused by the same virus, varicella zoster. After a person recovers from chicken pox, this virus stays dormant for decades in the body, ready to appear when the immune system is weakened by stress, medication or disease.

This infection causes a red rash and painful blisters. About 15 percent of sufferers are left with extreme nerve pain — a condition called postherpetic neuralgia, which can last for months or years. Shingrix can protect 97 percent of people in their 50s and 60s, and 91 percent of those in their 70s and 80s. 

Talk to your doctor if: You are not feeling well, or currently have shingles. There are few other reasons not to get the vaccine. 

Parting shot: Older adults should get this vaccine whether or not they remember having chicken pox as a child. Why? More than 99 percent of Americans over 40 have been exposed to the varicella zoster virus, even if they don’t recall getting chicken pox.

7. Hepatitis A vaccine 

Who needs it: People 50 and older who are at high risk for hepatitis A, a disease of the liver. Infections result primarily from travel to another country where hepatitis A virus transmission is common, through close contact with a hepatitis A–infected individual, or recreational drug use.

How often: Once, but given in two doses over six months.

Why you need it: Hepatitis A rates in the U.S. have declined by more than 95 percent since the hepatitis A vaccine first became available in 1995. In 2016, there were an estimated 4,000 hepatitis A cases in the U.S.

Parting shot: This is a sneaky disease. You may not have any telltale signs — and the likelihood of symptoms decreases as you age.

8. Hepatitis B vaccine

Who needs it: Adults 50 and older who are at risk for contracting hepatitis B, a liver infection. Hepatitis B is transmitted when a body fluid (blood, semen, saliva) from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact, or contact with blood or open sores (say, from a job that exposes you to human bodily fluids) or sharing anything from a needle to a razor to a toothbrush with an infected person. Other risk factors for infection include being on kidney dialysis, traveling to countries where hepatitis B is common, or having HIV.

How often: Adults getting the vaccine need three doses — the second dose given four weeks after the first; the third dose five months after the second. There is also a combination vaccine for both hepatitis A and B called Twinrix, which is given in three doses over six months.

Why you need it: The CDC estimates that the number of new hepatitis B infections in 2021 was 13,300.

Talk to your doctor if: You have a life-threatening allergy to yeast, or to any other component of the vaccine, or you are moderately or severely ill when a dose of vaccine is scheduled.

Editor’s note: This story, published March 15, 2021, has been updated to reflect new recommendations for COVID-19, flu, RSV and pneumococcal vaccinations.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?