Vaccines (immunizations) - overview

Definition

Vaccines are used to boost your immune system and prevent serious, life-threatening diseases.

Information

HOW VACCINES WORK

Vaccines "teach" your body how to defend itself when germs, such as viruses or bacteria, invade it:

Four types of vaccines are currently available:

WHY WE NEED VACCINES

For a few weeks after birth, babies have some protection from germs that cause diseases. This protection is passed from their mother through the placenta before birth. After a short period, this natural protection goes away.

Vaccines help protect against many diseases that used to be much more common. Examples include tetanus, diphtheria, mumps, measles, pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis, and polio. Many of these infections can cause serious or life-threatening illnesses and may lead to lifelong health problems. Because of vaccines, many of these illnesses are now rare.

SAFETY OF VACCINES

Some people worry that vaccines are not safe and may be harmful, especially for children. They may ask their health care provider to wait or even choose not to have the vaccine. But the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Institute of Medicine all conclude that the benefits of vaccines outweigh their risks.

Vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and nasal spray flu vaccines contain live but weakened viruses:

Thimerosal is a preservative that was found in most vaccines in the past. But now:

Allergic reactions are rare and are usually to some part (component) of the vaccine.

VACCINE SCHEDULE

The recommended vaccination (immunization) schedule is updated every 12 months by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Talk to your health care provider about specific immunizations for you or your child. Current recommendations are available at the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules.

TRAVELERS

The CDC website (http://www.cdc.gov/travel) has detailed information about immunizations and other precautions for travelers to other countries. Many immunizations should be received at least 1 month before travel.

Bring your immunization record with you when you travel to other countries. Some countries require this record.

COMMON IMMUNIZATIONS


Review Date: 8/30/2014
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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