Vaccines (immunizations) - overview
Vaccines are used to boost your immune system and prevent serious, life-threatening diseases.
Vaccinations; Immunizations; Immunize; Vaccine shots; Prevention - vaccine
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.
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.
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.
Bernstein, Kilinsky A, Orenstein WA. Immunization practices. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 197.
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 June 18, 2019.
Kim DK, Hunter P. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older - United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(5):115-118. PMID: 30730868 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30730868.
Kroger AT, Pickering LK, 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. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 316.
Robinson CL, Bernstein H, Romero JR, Szilagyi P. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for children and adolescents aged 18 years or younger - United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(5):112-114. PMID: 30730870 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30730870.
Strikas RA, Orenstein WA. Immunization. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 15.
Review Date: 8/5/2018
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Internal review and update on 07/10/2019 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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