Winter Vaccines that Seniors Should Know About

winter vaccines

Winter is here, and that means flu season is here too. COVID has shown that it will surge in winter, when more people are indoors and in close quarters. And as the rates of both go up, it’s entirely possible that you are more likely to wind up with pneumonia or bronchitis. Though there are good ways to avoid getting sick – including washing your hands frequently – sometimes you just can’t do enough to avoid the viruses that are so common during the wintertime.

That’s where vaccinations come in.

Vaccines against winter illnesses are vitally important year-round, and especially important for the elderly. As we get older, our immune systems don’t work as well as they used to[1]. As such, seniors face greater risks if they do contract a virus or disease, including a higher rate of hospitalization and death. Vaccinations can reduce that risk.

As we enter the harsher months of the winter season, your good health and safety should be a serious consideration. Visiting the doctor when you need to, taking your medications as directed, staying home and taking good care of yourself if you feel sick, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, eating right, and adding medical alert technology to your daily life are all good ideas. Getting vaccines is part of staying healthy, so speak to your doctor about which ones you should get. Here’s a rundown of the most common vaccines for seniors for the winter months.


You’ve probably heard it every year for as long as you can remember: Get your flu vaccine! And there’s a reason you hear it so often, because the importance of this vaccine can’t be understated. It’s estimated that up to 70% of all flu-related hospitalizations occur among those aged 65 and older, and up to 85% of all flu-related deaths occur among the elderly[2]. 

The flu can be especially deadly for those who have underlying conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, those over the age of 65 who get the flu have a higher risk of heart attack or stroke during the first two weeks after getting the flu, and the risk remains high for several months after they have recovered.

The vaccine can help you avoid getting the flu. But even if you do get the flu in spite of vaccination, you may have fewer or milder symptoms than you would have had if you weren’t vaccinated. You might be able to avoid hospitalization.

You should get a vaccine for the flu every year. That’s because the protection wanes over time, especially for older adults, and each season brings a new strain of the flu. That means that what you got last year might not protect you this year. The ideal scenario is to get your flu vaccine by the end of October each year to ensure you have the best protection going into flu season, as it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become truly effective.

But you shouldn’t get just any flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that seniors get the higher dose flu vaccine or the adjuvanted vaccine, which contains an extra ingredient to boost the immune response.

If you do get the flu and it becomes severe, it could turn into pneumonia, bronchitis, or another respiratory illness, leading to longer hospitalization and complications.


Pneumococcal pneumonia kills 18,000 elderly adults in the United States every year[3]. Even with the right antibiotics and the best of care, seniors still see a high fatality rate from pneumonia infections. In fact, with the exception of COVID, pneumococcal disease is responsible for killing more people in the United States every year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined[4].

The pneumococcal disease spreads from person to person through the air, making it tough to avoid during the winter season. The CDC recommends that those over the age of 65 get the vaccine, as well as those who are younger but are at increased risk due to certain medical conditions.

The CDC recommends PCV15 or PCV20 for seniors. If your doctor chooses to give you PCV15, you will need a second vaccine – PPSV23 – at least one year later to complete a full course of protection[5]. This guide from the CDC explains more about the vaccine, including the details about who should get which one. Speak to your doctor for the most updated guidance.

No Current Vaccine for Bronchitis

According to the Mayo Clinic, bronchitis is a serious health condition that includes inflammation of the lungs. It can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is usually known as a “chest cold” and includes a great deal of coughing. It often clears up in a matter of days but the cough can linger for several weeks.

Those who develop chronic bronchitis aren’t nearly as lucky. Chronic bronchitis is a constant inflammation and irritation of the lungs. It’s one of the conditions common among those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Bronchitis can lead to shortness of breath, fatigue, chest discomfort, cough, the production of mucus, and a slight fever and chills. You might also experience the symptoms of a cold, including muscle aches and headache.

Though scientists have tried to create an effective vaccine against bronchitis, studies as recent as 2017 have found that the vaccines created thus far don’t provide significant protection[6].

Since there is no vaccine for bronchitis, it becomes even more important to avoid developing the problem in the first place. Though the influenza vaccine doesn’t protect against bronchitis, the best way to reduce your risks of developing bronchitis is by not getting any of the respiratory viruses that can lead to it. Therefore, although the flu vaccine technically doesn’t protect you, it does help prevent the flu, which can lead to the problems that eventually lead to bronchitis.

It works the other way around, too. If you get bronchitis and then you get the flu or pneumonia, your weakened immune system can allow them to get worse than they would otherwise[7]. That’s another reason why getting your vaccines for flu and pneumonia is essential as we head into cold and flu season.


As we have seen over the last few years, the elderly are much more vulnerable to hospitalization and death from COVID than those of any other age. In fact, today 9 out of 10 of those who die from COVID-related complications are aged 65 and older, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Fortunately, the vaccines for COVID are proven to be incredibly effective. Vaccinated individuals aged 65 and older showed a whopping 94% reduced risk of hospitalization if they contract COVID[8]. Though the vaccine might be effective in keeping you from getting COVID, it does not prevent COVID entirely, so if you do happen to get one of the many sub-variants that are floating around this season, you will likely have much milder symptoms than you would without the vaccine.

Other Things to Know About Winter Season Vaccines

Vaccines go through rigorous testing to ensure they are safe for use among the general population. Most of those who have underlying conditions are encouraged to get their vaccines, but in some cases, a vaccine isn’t the right move for you. That’s why it’s so important to consult your doctor before choosing to take any vaccine.

In the case of some vaccines, you might feel side effects. The most common ones are quite mild and usually include redness, slight pain, and swelling at the injection site. In the case of the COVID vaccine, and occasionally with the flu vaccine, you might feel unwell for a few days after you get the shot.

If you’re worried about how you will pay for the vaccines you need, don’t be. Private insurance will usually cover the full cost of preventative vaccines. Starting this month, Medicare pays for all recommended vaccines for the elderly adults in the program. If you don’t have Medicare or private insurance, many vaccines will still be free for you, including those for COVID. To learn where you can obtain the vaccines, visit

As you choose to get vaccines and boosters to get you through the winter months, it’s a good idea to think about the other ways you can stay safer and healthier this season. Winter brings with it plenty of cold, snow, and ice, which can be challenging for anyone, but especially for seniors. Bundle up in layers to stay warm, keep your thermostat at a comfortable temperature, and have plenty of blankets to wrap up in to ward off the chill. Don’t overexert yourself when shoveling snow from sidewalks or driveways.

And pay attention to the ice situation – black ice can be entirely invisible but lead to serious falls. A medical alert system with fall detection can help you avoid the consequences of falling down on the ice and lingering there, unable to get up. When you have a personal button alarm right at your fingertips for any and all emergencies, there is no worry that you will be out in the cold after a fall, at risk of hypothermia or even frostbite. Simply press the button and help will soon be on the way.

Even if you are cozy in your warm home, having a medical alert wireless system or mobile medical alert for seniors can come in handy for other reasons. If you become dizzy or faint, experience fatigue or weakness, or otherwise feel generally unwell, you have the peace of mind that pressing the button will bring a friendly voice on the line, and you can always access whatever help you need quickly.