Vaccines are an important part of routine health care for adults, seniors, and women who are pregnant.

Why are vaccinations important?

Older adults and seniors need protection against infectious illnesses just like children do. Seniors, in particular, should be current on their flu, shingles, and pneumonia vaccines. These diseases can be especially dangerous for older people with preexisting health conditions.

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Influenza (flu)

Adults over 65 are at high risk for developing flu-related complications. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications.

The flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure (CHF) may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu. Complications from the flu can result in hospitalization or death.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

All children, teenagers, adults, and seniors (everyone 6 months of age and older) should get a flu vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available in the community.

Pregnant women should receive the flu shot (during flu season, which is October through May) to help protect against influenza. It can be given at any time during pregnancy.


Also known as zoster or herpes zoster, this virus affects an estimated 1 million cases each year in the U.S. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles.

The risk of shingles increases, as you get older. Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up within 2 to 4 weeks.

Before the rash develops, people often show other signs of shingles, such as pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from 1 to 5 days before the rash appears. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.

When should I get the shingles vaccine?

Shingrix is the vaccine that is recommended to prevent shingles. Healthy adults, age 50 years and older, get two doses, 2-6 months apart. Two doses of the vaccine are more than 90% effective at preventing shingles. This vaccine is preferred over the previous live vaccine, Zostavax. It is recommended that you get the new Shingrix vaccine even if you were previously vaccinated with Zostavax, not sure if you had the chickenpox, or had shingles and are 50 years old and older. There is no maximum age to receive the vaccine. You can learn more about it by visiting the CDC’s website.

The vaccine protects against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).


Pneumonia is caused by pneumococcal disease, which can cause severe infections of the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (bacteremia), and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Common signs of pneumonia include fever and chills, cough, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and chest pain.

Most pneumonia infections are mild. However, complications of pneumonia can be severe or even deadly. These include infection of the space between membranes that surround the lungs and chest cavity; inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart; and blockage of the airway that allows air into the lungs, with lung collapse and collection of pus (abscess) in the lungs.

When should I get the pneumococcal vaccine?

There are now two pneumococcal vaccines. PREVNAR covers thirteen strains and PCV23 covers twenty-three strains of pneumonia.  Both vaccines are only given one time to people that are over the age of 65. Adults between the ages of 19 and 65 with certain conditions that affect the immune system should check with their primary care provider if they should receive the vaccination.

Pertussis (whooping cough)

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, can cause serious and sometimes deadly complications in babies and young children, especially those who are not fully vaccinated. Teens and adults can also get complications from pertussis, however, these complications are usually less serious in this older age group, especially in those who have been vaccinated with a pertussis vaccine.

Complications from pertussis can include weight loss, urinary incontinence, loss of consciousness, and rib fractures from severe coughing. More serious complications can also occur.

When should I get vaccinated for whooping cough?

The whooping cough vaccine is usually given in combination with a tetanus booster – Tdap (Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis).

The Tdap vaccine protects against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria. Booster doses of Td are recommended every 10 years for adults (or sooner for certain injuries – contact your provider to find out). However, all adults that are 19 years old and older that have never received the Tdap vaccine should receive one dose regardless of the interval from last tetanus or Td vaccine. Talk to your primary care provider if you have never received the Tdap vaccine.

Pregnant women of all ages should get vaccinated for Tdap (between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy) to help protect against whooping cough

Talk to your primary care provider about what vaccines you may need. Don’t have a primary care doctor? Visit or contact us at (717) 231-8900 for a referral.

Featuring Shawn Moyer, MD

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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