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Vaccinations for the Elderly


As a person gets older, the immune systems become less effective at fighting certain infectious disease. This means that elderly are more likely to catch infections, and takes longer time to recover once the infection had caught on. In addition, disease like flu which takes a few days to recover when younger, can cause more serious illness in the elderly, and may even result in life-threatening complications.

Although vaccination programme in Malaysia has provided young children with comprehensive protection against communicable diseases, there are instances where vaccination is needed in older people. There are many reasons to this.

Why do elderly need vaccination?

The Ministry of Health Malaysia vaccination programmes has provided immunity against wide range of communicable diseases for life, and resulted in decrease in death from preventable disease in Malaysia.
The ability of the body to fight against infection reduces as we age. Even if the immunity was given during childhood vaccination, this protection may become less with age. On the other hand some infections like influenza and pneumonia can lead to serious complications in the elderly.

Some changes affect us as we get older. For example, a small organ found in our chest called the thymus shrinks with age. When we reach the age of 60, only 5% of the original size of the organ is left. Thymus is responsible for producing immune cells called T-cells that fight-off infections. The shrinkage of the thymus results in reduction in number of T cells produces, ultimately leading to weaker immune system to deal with attacking bacteria and viruses.

The physiological change in our skin as we aged also has an impact to our immunity. The reduced skin integrity with age makes easier entrance of bacteria into our body.

Because of these changes, that elderly should take more preventive measures to avoid infections compared to younger people. Preventive measures include:

  • Hygiene

  • Diet

  • Fitness

  • Vaccination

What are the vaccines that elderly need?

Three common but potentially serious infectious disease that elderly should be vaccinated against include pneumococcal disease and influenza. (“what vaccine do I need?”)

What are the booster vaccines that elderly need?

Even if you have being vaccinated before, booster vaccinations against tetanus is also recommended for elderly. (“what vaccine do I need?”)

Other vaccinations offered to elderly

Some elderly may have additional risk or exposure to certain communicable diseases. This may be due to your lifestyle or living condition. You may have additional risk if you are (Elderly at Risk):

  • Living in a dormitory

  • Functional or anatomic asplenia

  • Traveling to countries in which the disease is common (for example, when a person is performing pilgrimage in Makkah).

  • Live with someone who has chronic Hepatitis B

  • Are a hemodialysis patient

  • Travelling to countries with moderate to high rates of Hepatitis A or B

Types of vaccinations will depend on the risk you are facing. Consult with your doctor.

Vaccinations are important to allow the elderly to avoid serious illnesses that may be life-threatening.



Last Review : 29 November 2013
Writer : Dr. Cheah Wee Kooi