August Is National Immunization Awareness Month

Over the years, vaccines have prevented countless cases of disease and saved millions of lives. Diseases that used to be common right here in the United States, as well as around the world, can now be prevented by vaccination, including polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), mumps, tetanus, rotavirus and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). And smallpox, one of the worst diseases in human history, no longer exists outside the laboratory thanks to vaccines.

“When your immune system doesn’t recognize a pathogen, it has trouble fighting it off,” said Dr. Steves, D.O. at the Penn Highlands Family Medicine Clinic. “A vaccine is simply a way to teach your immune system how to recognize the pathogen so it’s prepared if you are exposed.”

Both children and adults need essential and lifesaving vaccines, not only to keep themselves healthy, but also to protect those around them from becoming ill. This is where herd immunity, which we’ve heard so much about recently, comes in. Herd immunity, also called community immunity, is essential in protecting groups of people who can’t receive vaccines. These groups include children who are too young for certain vaccines and individuals whose immune system can’t tolerate a particular vaccine. Community immunity occurs when enough people are immunized against a disease that the chances of it spreading is sharply reduced, and thus protecting those are who unable to be vaccinated.

What vaccinations do kids need? What do adults need? How long are vaccines effective? Let’s explore some key things everyone needs to know about immunizations.

What vaccinations do kids need?

Every parent should talk to their children’s primary care physician about the proper immunization schedule. Here is a list of the basic vaccinations most children and adolescents need:

  • DTaP/Tdap vaccines, which protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough);
  • Flu shot;
  • Hib vaccine, protects against a bacteria called Haemophilus influenza B, which was the main cause of ear infections and a major cause of upper respiratory infections in children.
  • Hepatitis A and B (inflammation of the liver);
  • HPV vaccine, which protects against the human papillomavirus that can cause cancer (prevents most types of cervical and genital cancers);
  • IPV, which protects against polio;
  • Meningococcal conjugate and serogroup B meningococcal vaccines, which protect against meningococcal disease (meningitis – an inflammation/infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord);
  • MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella;
  • PCV13 vaccine, which protects against pneumococcus (bacteria causing pneumonia);
  • RV, which protects against rotavirus (stomach illness in children - severe diarrhea and nausea/vomiting);
  • Varicella vaccine, which protects against chickenpox and subsequently against shingles.

What vaccinations do adults need?

In addition to an annual flu shot, adults should talk with their primary care physician about the following vaccinations:

  • Td, which protects against tetanus and diphtheria;
  • Herpes zoster vaccine, which protects against shingles;
  • Pneumococcal conjugate and/or pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines;
  • Hepatitis A and/or hepatitis B;
  • Meningococcal conjugate or serogroup B meningococcal vaccine;
  • Regionally specific vaccines if you plan to travel to certain countries. This could include typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A and B, malaria, meningococcal disease and yellow fever.

It’s important to remember that many vaccines are not one and done, meaning you’re not protected for life. It is essential to keep up to date with boosters, annual shots like those for the flu and multi-part vaccines like HPV. During your annual exam, your primary care provider will review your vaccination schedule to determine what boosters you need.

“If you have any questions or concerns about vaccinations, the best thing to do is talk to your primary care provider,” said Dr. Steves, D.O. “They will help you consider all of the factors so you can make an informed decision for you and your family.”

Penn Highlands Family Medicine offers immunizations for patients of all ages at convenient locations throughout the region. For more information, visit