What are immunizations?
Immunizations save lives. They are the best way to help protect
you or your child from certain infectious diseases. They also help reduce the spread of disease to
others and prevent epidemics. Most are given as shots. They are sometimes
called vaccines, or vaccinations.
In many cases when you get a
vaccine, you get a tiny amount of a weakened or dead form of the organism that
causes the disease. This amount is not enough to give you the actual disease.
But it is enough to cause your
immune system to make
antibodies that can recognize and attack the organism
if you are ever exposed to it.
Sometimes a vaccine does not
completely prevent the disease, but it will make the disease much less serious
if you do get it.
Some immunizations are needed only one time.
Others require several doses over time to help your body be able to fight the disease (build immunity).
What are some reasons to get immunized?
- Immunizations protect you or your child from dangerous
- They help reduce the spread of disease to others.
- They are often needed for entrance into school or day care. And
they may be needed for employment or for travel to another country.
- Getting immunized costs less than getting treated for the
diseases that the shots protect you from.
- The risk of getting a
disease is much greater than the risk of having a serious reaction to the vaccine.
- When immunization rates drop below a certain level, preventable diseases show up again. Often, these diseases are hard to treat. For example, measles outbreaks still occur in the U.S.
If you are a woman who is planning to get pregnant, talk
to your doctor about what immunizations you have had and what you may need to
protect your baby. And if you live with a pregnant woman, make sure your
vaccines are up-to-date.
Traveling to other countries may be
another reason to get immunized. Talk with your doctor months before
you leave, to see if you need any shots.
What immunizations are recommended for children and adolescents?
Ask your doctor what shots your child should get.
The immunization schedule includes vaccines for:
- Bacterial meningitis.
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (also known as whooping
- Flu (influenza).
- Haemophilus influenzae type b disease,
or Hib disease.
- Hepatitis A.
- Hepatitis B.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Measles, mumps, and rubella.
- Pneumococcal disease.
Immunizations start right after birth, and many are given
throughout a baby's first 23 months. Booster shots (the later doses of any
vaccines that need to be repeated over time) occur throughout life.
Fewer immunizations are needed after age 6. But older children and teens
need shots too (such as those for bacterial meningitis and for tetanus,
diphtheria, and whooping cough). Some shots are also given during adulthood
(such as a tetanus shot).
It is important to keep a good
including a list of any reactions to the vaccines. When you enroll your child
in day care or school, you may need to show proof of immunizations. Your child
may also need the record later in life for college, employment, or travel.
Talk to your doctor if
you or your child plans to be in a group living situation, like a college
dormitory or summer camp. You may want certain shots, like those for meningitis.
What vaccines are recommended for adults?
vaccines you need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans
but also on who you are in close contact with and what vaccines you had as a child.
Talk to your
doctor about which vaccines you need. Common adult vaccines include:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
In some states, pharmacists can give some of these shots.
What are the side effects of vaccines?
effects from vaccines are minor, if they occur at all. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about
the reactions that could occur. They may include:
- Redness, mild swelling, or soreness where the shot was given.
- A slight fever.
- Drowsiness, crankiness, and poor appetite.
- A mild rash 7 to 14 days after chickenpox or
- Temporary joint pain after a measles-mumps-rubella shot.
Serious reactions, such as trouble breathing or a high fever
are rare. If you or your child has an unusual reaction, call your
How safe are vaccines?
False claims in the news have made some parents concerned about a link between autism and the shot for measles, mumps, and rubella. But studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.1, 2
question whether mercury-containing thimerosal (used as a preservative in
vaccines) might cause
autism. Studies have not found a link between
thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.3 Today, all
routine childhood vaccines made for the U.S. contain either no
thimerosal or only trace amounts.4
Two major government agencies, along with vaccine makers and other groups, watch for, study, and keep track of adverse events that occur after vaccines are given.