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Vaccines (immunizations) - overview

Vaccinations; Immunizations; Immunize; Vaccine shots; Prevention - vaccine

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

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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 life-long 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 (CDC), 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 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Talk to your provider about specific immunizations for you or your child. Current recommendations are available at the CDC website: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules.

TRAVELERS

The CDC website (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 VACCINES

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Frequently asked questions about thimerosal. www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/thimerosal/thimerosal_faqs.html. Updated August 28, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2018.

Kim DK, Riley LE, Hunter P, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older, United States, 2018. Ann Intern Med. 2018;(3):210-220. PMID: 29404596 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29404596.

Kroger AT, Pickering LK, Wharton M, Mawle A, Hinman AR, Orenstein WA. Immunization. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 321.

Pickering LK, Orenstein WA. Immunization practices. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 172.

Robinson CL, Romero JR, Kempe A, Pellegrini C, Szilagyi P. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for children and adolescents aged 18 years or younger - United States, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(5):156-157. PMID: 29420458 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29420458.

Strikas RA, Orenstein WA. Immunization. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 18.

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Review Date: 8/5/2018  

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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