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Picking the Right Vaccination for Specific Adult Populations

Even in adulthood, it's important to be up to date on your vaccines to help avoid illness from vaccine-preventable diseases. Among adults, seniors and pregnant women, as well as people with certain medical, work, or lifestyle risks have special vaccination needs due to different risks.

Older adults

As you get older, your immune system weakens and your chances of getting sick from certain diseases increase. The protection you had against certain diseases from previous vaccinations also decreases with time. Getting another dose, known as a "booster," can increase your immunity to keep you protected. Vaccine-preventable diseases that commonly affect older adults include:

Diphtheria is caused by a poison released by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Since it commonly affects your airways, symptoms include mild fever, sore throat, swollen neck glands, weakness, coughing, and sneezing. These bacteria can also infect skin and can damage your heart, nerves, and kidneys if they enter your bloodstream. Although diphtheria is rare, adults are at an increased risk of getting this disease and it often results in death.

Herpes Zoster (shingles)
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, but they usually develop differently on the body. Shingles often begins with painful, itchy and tingly sensations occurring typically on one side of the face or body. After several days, a rash forms in the affected area, and it blisters and scabs for 7 to 10 days. This painful, itchy, and tingly rash can significantly limit your daily activities, and can lead to complications such as vision loss or long-term nerve pain.

Influenza (flu)
Influenza is a virus that infects your respiratory tract and is contagious. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches, tiredness, and a runny or stuffy nose. Older adults should be vaccinated against the flu each year, as you are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia and other life-threatening complications from the flu.

Pertussis (whooping cough)
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. Symptoms include severe coughing fits followed by the need to take deep breaths that cause a "whooping" sound. While whooping cough can be mild in adults, it can be much more severe and even fatal in infants, children, and unvaccinated individuals.

Pneumococcal disease
You may have heard of the lung infection, pneumonia, but pneumococcal disease also includes infection of the ear, sinus, brain and spinal cord tissue, or blood. Depending on where the pneumococcal infection occurs in the body, you may experience different symptoms, such as difficulty breathing due to pneumonia, stiff neck from brain and spinal cord tissue infection, ear pain from an ear infection, or fever and chills from a blood infection. Older adults are at a higher risk of getting pneumococcal disease, leading to hospitalizations and even death, so getting the vaccine is highly recommended.

Tetanus (lockjaw)
Tetanus is spread from spores of bacteria found in the environment like soil, and they enter your body through broken skin. Common symptoms of tetanus are spasms and tightening of the muscles of the jaw, which is why tetanus is also known as "lockjaw." It is a rare but serious disease that can cause death in adults. Getting vaccinated can help protect you against tetanus while being outdoors.

Many of these diseases and their serious complications can be prevented by your routine vaccinations. Check with your health care provider to see if you are up-to-date with these vaccinations.

Women who are pregnant or could be pregnant

If you are pregnant, or could possibly be pregnant, it is important to stay up to date on your vaccines to protect both yourself and your baby.

When you become pregnant, your immune system changes in a way that can put you and your baby at a higher risk of certain infections or complications, including some that can lead to birth defects, miscarriage, premature birth, or even death. By staying current with your vaccines, you can help ensure that you and your baby will have more protection against these potential health problems when you do become pregnant, especially in the case of an unplanned pregnancy.

However, some important vaccines are not suitable to receive during pregnancy. Try to plan ahead and update your vaccination status before you become pregnant.

It is also important that all members of your household are up-to-date on their routine vaccinations to protect your newborn from infections.

Talk to your health care provider about vaccinations to protect you and your baby.

Specific medical, work, or lifestyle risks

If you have certain medical, work, or lifestyle risks that increase your chances of getting sick from vaccine-preventable diseases, you may need more vaccines for added protection.

Examples of medical conditions include:

  • asplenia (absence of a spleen)
  • diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
  • heart disease (i.e., stroke)
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • lung disease (i.e., asthma)
  • weakened immune system (i.e., HIV infection, chemotherapy, transplant, immunosuppressive therapy)

Examples of work or lifestyle risks include:

  • health care and child care workers
  • injection or non-injection drug use
  • inmates of correctional facilities
  • men who have sex with men
  • new Canadians
  • travellers (see below)

Talk to your health care provider about whether additional vaccinations are recommended for you.


Travelling to other countries can increase your risk for certain diseases since you may be exposed to diseases that are not found in your home country. Before you travel, you should understand which diseases may be a risk for you. The type and number of vaccines you need depend on:

  • your travel destination
  • the type and length of travel
  • your vaccine history

It's important to plan ahead to make sure that you can get the necessary vaccines before you travel, especially since some vaccines require multiple doses. You should consult with your health care provider or visit a travel health clinic at least six weeks before you travel to ensure you have enough time to get all the necessary vaccines prior to your trip.

For more information on which travel vaccines are right for you, contact your health care provider, travel health clinic, local public health office or visit the Government of Canada website.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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