Older people also need immunisation. This section describes the free immunisations available for people at age 65 and older. These immunisations protect against shingles, influenza, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
At age 65, immunisation against influenza, shingles (Shingrix vaccine), tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (Boostrix vaccine) is recommended by the Ministry of Health. These 3 vaccines are free. Talk to your health provider or pharmacist to find out how to protect yourself.
As you get older, the protection you received from some of your earlier immunisations begins to wear off. Your immune system may no longer work as well, meaning you are at increased risk from some infectious diseases.
Shingles is a painful rash affecting a particular nerve. Anyone who has previously had chickenpox can develop shingles, many years after recovering from the disease. Shingles usually occurs in older people and lasts from 10 to 15 days. The nerve pain can last long after the rash disappears and, in some cases, can cause permanent damage.
Two doses of Shingrix, the current shingles vaccines, is free for people aged 65. To receive both doses funded, you must receive your first Shingrix dose after you turn 65 and before you turn 66. If you receive your first dose free at age 65, the second dose is free even if you turn 66 between doses.
Influenza (or the flu) is a serious illness that can be fatal. Influenza may lead to a stay in hospital at any age but particularly if you are older or have an underlying medical condition. Influenza kills around 400 New Zealanders every year.
The flu vaccine is free and recommended every year from age 65 onwards. The vaccine is changed each year to make sure it protects against the most common strains of the virus. It is available from late autumn each year from many places, including your local health provider, community vaccination site and many pharmacies.
In 2022 the flu vaccine is free for Māori or Pasifika aged 55 and over.
Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection of the throat, which can close off the airway. It can also affect the heart and nervous system and cause death. Because of immunisation, diphtheria is now extremely rare in New Zealand, however it can still be brought back into the country through travel.
Tetanus (or lockjaw) is a serious infection caused by bacteria that live in dirt and dust, and enter the body through a cut or wound. Tetanus causes muscle stiffness, painful spasms and sometimes death.
Most cases of whooping cough are in adults whose immunity has faded. In these cases, symptoms tend to be less serious, although the persistent cough can be unpleasant and frustrating. However, whooping cough can be very serious if it's passed on to babies and children – especially those under 1 year old.
Combined tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (Tdap) vaccine is recommended and free at age 65 and over to boost the immunity you received as a child.
One dose of Boostrix vaccine is also recommended and free at age 45 if you have not previously received four doses of tetanus vaccine.
For more information about immunisation, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.