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Immunization 101

It can sometimes be difficult to understand or keep track of exactly which vaccines you need. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has a form available to help you understand what vaccines might be important for you.


Should Adults be Immunized?
Yes. Some adults incorrectly assume that the vaccines they received as children will protect them for the rest of their lives. Generally this is true, except that some adults were never vaccinated as children, newer vaccines were not available when some adults were children, immunity can begin to fade over time, and as we age, we become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections (e.g., flu, pneumococcus).

What Immunizations Do I Need?
It can sometimes be difficult to understand or keep track of exactly which vaccines you need. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has a form available to help you understand what vaccines might be important for you. Questions on the form help you and your doctor decide which vaccines you need and when to get them. You can print the form, fill it out, and take it with you to the office the next time you see your doctor. The clinician's version of the form can be distributed and used in clinics and healthcare professionals' offices.

Are There Side Effects to These Immunizations?
Vaccines are among the safest medicines available. Some common side effects are a sore arm or low fever. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting a vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with the diseases these vaccines prevent are much greater than the potential risks associated with the vaccines themselves.

How Often Do I Need to be Immunized?
Immunizations for pneumococcal disease (except for patients at particular risk for pneumococcal complications), measles, mumps, and rubella are usually administered once, and offer protection for life. Influenza vaccine must be administered yearly due to the appearance of new strains of virus which are not addressed by previous vaccines. Additional booster doses of tetanus and diphtheria vaccines (usually given as a combination Td vaccine) are required every 10 years to maintain immunity against these diseases. Hepatitis B vaccine is administered in 3 doses given over a 6-month period. Two doses of chickenpox vaccine are recommended for people 13 years or older who have not had the disease. Two doses of hepatitis A are needed 6 to 12 months apart to ensure long-term protection.

Are there Vaccines that Protect Against Communicable Diseases for Adults?
Yes! Immunizations are readily available for such common adult illnesses as influenza (flu), pneumococcal disease, and hepatitis B. Vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), hepatitis A, tetanus (lockjaw), diphtheria, and varicella (chickenpox) are also needed by some adults. The U.S. Public Health Service recommendations clearly identify people who are at risk for these diseases and who should be immunized to prevent these diseases and their complications.


Why is Childhood Immunization Important?
Vaccines help prevent infectious diseases and save lives. Childhood immunizations are responsible for the control of many infectious diseases that were once common in this country, including polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), mumps, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). While the US currently has near record low cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, the viruses and bacteria that cause them still exist. Vaccines prevent disease in the people who receive them and protect those who come into contact with unvaccinated individuals.

The use of vaccination for customary childhood illnesses have decreased the incidences of diphtheria, measles, mumps, congenital rubella syndrome, and invasive Hib disease (meningitis, sepsis) by 99% and wild polio by 100%.

A large disparity still exists in the vaccination practices of children ages 19 to 35 months between different racial and ethnic minorities. In 2001, 75.2% of white children receives the full vaccination schedule for their age while only 67.1% of African American children received the same level of vaccination.

When Should I Begin Immunizing my Child?
Early protection is vital, immunization begins at birth. This early start on immunization is crucial because an infant’s immune system does not yet have the necessary defenses to fight infectious diseases. Infants and toddlers are, therefore, especially susceptible to these illnesses as well as their serious complications. Immunization is one of the most important tools we have to protect children from disease . And an adequately protected child will have completed the recommended primary series of doses by age two.

Why Does My Child Need so Many Shots at One Time?
We are fortunate to have a number of vaccines to safeguard children from many terrible diseases. Protecting children during the vulnerable first two years of life results in various vaccine doses coming due at the same time. Researchers are now working to combine more vaccines into a single injection, thus requiring fewer shots. Numerous studies have proven that simultaneous inoculations do not compromise the immune system or cause any other adverse effect.

Are the Recommended Vaccines Safe?
Years of testing are required, by law, before vaccines can be licensed. And once in use, they are continually monitored for safety and efficacy. These vaccines are held to the highest standard of safety; however, no medicine is 100% safe. Even a medication as common and life-saving as penicillin can cause an adverse reaction in a small number of people. Vaccines are extremely safe, and improvements for both the vaccines and the immunization schedules are constantly being sought and implemented to make them even safer.

For more information on Immunization:

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Centers for Disease Control Vaccines for Children Program

National Vaccine Program Office

For more information on adult immunizations:

Centers for Disease Control

Content Last Modified: 11/2/2005 6:40:00 PM
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