There always seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding around vaccines. Should you get them? Should you not? What vaccines should you give to your children? However, vaccines are crucial to protecting your family and the health of the public. Vaccines are created and administered to prevent the spread of contagious, dangerous, and sometimes deadly diseases. Some examples include measles, polio, mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough, and HPV.
The first vaccine discovered was the smallpox vaccine. Smallpox was an illness that killed 300 to 500 million people around the world in the last century. Once a vaccine was created and administered, the disease eventually disappeared, making it the only disease to be completely destroyed.(1)
Now, let us dive into the basics of vaccines and why they are important.
What are vaccines?
A vaccine, or an immunization, is a way to build up your body’s immunity to a disease before you get sick, helping you to avoid getting and spreading the disease. Most vaccines are a weakened form of the disease germ that is then administered to you usually as a shot in the arm or leg. The antibodies that are created stay in your body for a very long time or the rest of your life. This means if you are ever exposed to that disease, your body can fight it off without you ever getting sick.
How does immunity work?
Your immune system is there to help fight off any foreign germs that could make you sick or harm you. To build up your immune system and make it strong, your body must be exposed to different germs. When it is exposed to those germs for the first time, your body will produce antibodies to fight against it. However, sometimes that means you will get sick if your body has not formed those antibodies quite yet. Once those antibodies have been produced, they will stay in your body so that the next time you are exposed, they will fight against the germs and you will not get sick. It is important to note that you CANNOT get the disease from the vaccine. This is a common misconception around vaccines, especially the influenzas vaccine. However, it does take a few weeks for the body to produce the antibodies, so it is possible for a person to become infected just before or after receiving a vaccination.
Who should get vaccines?
Everyone! Vaccines are recommended for infants, children, teens, and adults, and there are different vaccine schedules that are available. A great place to find these schedules is by visiting cdc.gov. These schedules typically include what vaccines should be given and at what age. Most vaccines are given to children, and it is recommended that they receive 14 different vaccines by the time they have their sixth birthday.(1) Here are some facts provided by the CDC about the importance of childhood vaccines:
Newborn babies are immune to many diseases because they have antibodies they got from their mothers. However, this immunity goes away during the first year of life.
If an unvaccinated child is exposed to a disease germ, the child’s body may not be strong enough to fight the disease. Before vaccines, many children died from diseases that vaccines now prevent, such as whooping cough, measles, and polio. Those same germs exist today, but because babies are protected by vaccines, we do not see these diseases nearly as often.
Immunizing individual children also helps to protect the health of our community, especially those people who cannot be immunized (children who are too young to be vaccinated or those who can’t receive certain vaccines for medical reasons) and the small proportion of people who don’t respond to a particular vaccine.
Vaccine-preventable diseases have a costly economic impact as well, resulting in increased doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths. Sick children can also cause parents to lose time from work.
As you get older, you need fewer vaccines. Also, some vaccines that are given during childhood wear off over time. Here are the two vaccines needed as an adult:
Influenza (flu) vaccine each year. The flu vaccine is particularly important for people who have chronic health conditions, are pregnant, or over age 65.
Tdap or Td vaccine. The Tdap vaccine protects against whooping cough and tetanus. It is recommended that adults get this vaccine every 10 years. Also, each time a woman is pregnant, it is recommended to get the Tdap vaccine around 27 to 36 weeks.(2)
Other vaccines may be needed or recommended depending on your age, health condition, job, lifestyle, or travel habits. A couple of these vaccines are:
Shingles vaccine (Shingrix) for healthy adults 50 years and older. This is recommended to prevent shingles and the complications from the disease.
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is recommended for all adults who are 65 years or older and for adults younger than 65 who have certain health conditions. This vaccine will help protect against serious pneumococcal disease, including meningitis and bloodstream infections.
To check what other vaccines may be recommended for your specific situation, you can visit the CDC.
Why are vaccines important?
In the United States, vaccines have greatly reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely harmed or killed infants, children, and adults. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause these diseases still exist, and there is a possibility of getting sick if you are not vaccinated. Every year, thousands of adults become sick, are hospitalized, or even die from diseases that vaccines could have helped prevent.(2)
Because vaccines can help lower your chance of getting certain diseases, you are also less likely to develop severe complications as a result of getting sick. Some examples provided by the CDC include:
The Hepatitis B vaccine lowers your risk of liver cancer.
The HPV vaccine lowers your risk of cervical cancer.
The flu vaccine lowers your risk of flu-related heart attacks or other flu-related complications from existing health conditions like diabetes and chronic lung disease.
Vaccines also lower your chance of spreading the disease to those around you. Some people are not able to get certain vaccines due to their age or health conditions. Therefore, it is as important as ever that you help prevent the spread of disease since they cannot. Also, infants, older adults, or those who have a weakened immune system (like individuals undergoing cancer treatment) are also at risk of getting certain diseases. For example, newborn babies are too young to be treated for whooping cough. This disease can be very dangerous and sometimes deadly for them. That is why the CDC recommends pregnant women to get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant. It is also recommended that anyone else who is around newborns should be up to date on that Tdap vaccine as well.
Overall, it is your choice to get vaccinated or not. But before making that decision, keep in mind all that was mentioned above. Vaccines are there to help you and those around you stay healthy. Getting the recommended vaccines is the best possible protection available against a number of serious diseases.(2)