Immunisation for adults

Immunisation is also known as vaccination

Key points about immunisation for adults

  • Vaccinations are not just for children. Adults also need vaccinations.
  • Protection provided by some childhood vaccines can also wear off over time, and as you get older your immune system tends to weaken, putting you at higher risk of certain diseases.
  • Find out about the vaccines available free for adults in Aotearoa and when you are eligible for them.
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Immunisation involves receiving a vaccine to help your body's immune system protect you against a disease. Read more about how your immune system works.

The following vaccines are free for adults in Aotearoa New Zealand

  • Flu vaccine: Every winter from age 55 years for Māori and Pasifika and 65 years for anyone else. The flu vaccine is also free for some people with certain medical conditions.
  • Shingles vaccine: One dose at age 65 years. 
  • Tetanus vaccine: From 45 years (if you have not already received 4 doses of tetanus-containing vaccine) and 65 years for anyone else.
  • Measles vaccine (MMR): Anyone born on/after 1 January 1969 who has not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine should have the MMR vaccine.
  • COVID vaccines: Adults over 16 years are eligible for 2 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and a booster. If you are over 50 years of age, you're eligible for 2 boosters. 

Note: Other vaccines are funded for adults at high risk of some diseases due to other medical conditions. For more details see funded vaccines for special groups (external link)and (external link)vaccinations in pregnancy.

Yearly vaccination against the flu is the best way to protect our communities from infection and serious illness. It is advisable for anyone over the age of 6 months to have the flu vaccine. In Aotearoa New Zealand the flu vaccine is free for Māori and Pasifika every year from the age of 55 years and from 65 years for anyone else. These groups are at higher risk of getting the flu and complications, which may involve being admitted to hospital. Read more about the flu vaccine. 

Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash. It usually appears as blisters around one side of your chest, but it can also be on your trunk, back, legs or face. It is most common in people over 70 years of age, but can happen in younger people. It is caused by the same virus (varicella zoster) that causes chickenpox. 

In New Zealand, there are two brands of shingles vaccines – Zostavax (1 dose) and Shingrix (2 doses). Both vaccines are available to anyone 50 years and older but only free (funded) for people aged 65 years. Read more about shingles and the shingles vaccine

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by bacteria usually found in soil and manure. It affects your nervous system and causes severe muscle spasms, mainly in your jaw and neck. Tetanus can affect your breathing and can be life threatening.

Anyone who hasn't had 3 tetanus-containing vaccines is at risk of getting tetanus. 

The effect of the vaccine wears off over time so having tetanus vaccines as a child won't give you life-long cover. You need booster doses as an adult. Booster doses may also be needed after dirty cuts, grazes and wounds if it's been more than 5 years since the last booster. 

For adults, booster doses are given as a combination vaccine called Boostrix® which also protects against diphtheria and whooping cough.

Free booster doses are available for adults:

  • 65 years of age and above unless they have already received a tetanus booster within the past 10 years
  • 45 years of age and above who haven't previously received 4 doses of tetanus-containing vaccine.

The vaccine is free, but there may be a small charge for the injection to be given.

Note: The Boostrix® vaccine also protects against whooping cough, but this protection is expected to decrease after 4 to 6 years. Some adults are recommended to have a whooping cough booster at least every 10 years, eg, if you live with a newborn baby. If you’re not eligible for a free whooping cough booster, they can be purchased. Your vaccinator can give you advice on how often it’s recommended you have a booster.

For more information about tetanus vaccine ask your healthcare provider. Read more about tetanus and the tetanus vaccine.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bug (bacteria) called S. pneumoniae. This causes serious illnesses such as pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis and septicaemia (infection of the blood). Pneumonia can cause hospitalisation and even death, especially in people 65 years of age or older.

Getting the pneumococcal vaccine is one of the ways to protect against pneumococcal disease. The vaccine may not always prevent pneumonia but it can lessen the severity of the illness and the need to go to hospital. Pneumococcal vaccine is not free for all older adults in Aotearoa New Zealand – you may need to pay for it. If you are over 65 years of age you only need 1 dose. Read more about pneumococcal disease and the pneumococcal vaccine.

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Healthify pharmacist. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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