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National Immunization Awareness Month: Vaccines Protect Us All!

08-13-2019

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance to highlight the importance of vaccinations - a highly effective, easy way to keep your family and loved ones healthy. They help to provide immunity before you’re exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases and infections. Vaccines are tested to make sure they’re safe and effective to receive at all recommended ages.

Join Frederick Regional Health System as we champion how vaccines reduce the risk of infection and protect people of all ages within our community.

How Do Vaccines Work?

Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease. When germs like bacteria or viruses invade the body, they attack and multiply. This invasion, or infection, is what causes illness and its symptoms. The first time the body encounters these germs, it can take several days to make and use all germ-fighting tools needed to fight the infection. After the infection is gone, the immune system “remembers” how to protect the body against that specific disease.

Vaccines help to develop immunity by imitating infections. They never cause illness, but they may cause the immune system to produce antibodies, which sometimes lead to minor symptoms like fever. Once the imitation infection is gone, the body is left with memory cells that will remember how to fight the disease in the future.

Researchers and scientists take many special approaches when developing new vaccines. Information about infections, how the immune system will respond to them, and even environmental conditions of where the vaccine will be used come into play. In the U.S., there are five main types of vaccines that we commonly receive:

  • Live, attenuated vaccines: These are the vaccines that fight viruses and bacteria. They contain a version of the living virus or bacteria, which means they’re good “teachers” for the immune system, but they’re weakened enough not to cause any harm. Examples of these vaccines include measles, mumps & rubella (MMR), and varicella (chickenpox). Children with already weakened immune systems, due to chemotherapy or cancer, for example, cannot get live vaccines.
  • Inactivated vaccines: These vaccines also fight viruses and bacteria; however, they’re made by inactivating or killing the germ during the vaccine making process. Often, multiple doses are required to build up or maintain immunity. Examples include the polio vaccine, Hepatitis A, and flu shots.
  • Toxoid vaccines: These prevent disease caused by bacteria that produce toxins in the body. While making these vaccines, scientists weaken the toxins so they can’t cause illness. When the body receives the vaccine containing this weakened toxin or toxoid, it learns how to fight off the natural toxin. The DTaP (or diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough) vaccine is a perfect example.
  • Subunit vaccines: These contain small parts of the virus and bacteria, or subunits, instead of the entire germ. Side effects are less common because they don’t contain the full makeup of the germ. An example of a subunit vaccine is the pertussis (whooping cough) component of the DTaP vaccine or the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
  • Conjugate vaccines: These vaccines fight off a different type of bacteria - ones with an outer coating of sugar-like substances called polysaccharides. This coating disguises the antigen so the immune system has a hard time recognizing and responding to it. Conjugate vaccines are effective because they help the immune system react to the coating and develop an immune response. The Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine is a conjugate vaccine.

Some vaccines require more than one dose. For some vaccines, primarily inactivated vaccines, the first dose does not provide as much immunity as possible, so more is needed to complete immunity. For others, including booster shots, resistance begins to wear off after a while and require annual immunization (ex. flu vaccines). With flu vaccines, the viruses causing disease change from season to season, so the shots are made to protect against the viruses that researchers suggest will be most common that year.

Some people believe that naturally acquired immunity (or catching the disease itself and allowing the body to fight it off) is preferable to vaccines. But many natural infections can cause devastating complications to the body, even death. This is true for the mildest of diseases, such as chickenpox. Even with advances in healthcare, these diseases can be deadly, and vaccination is the best way to prevent them. Immunizations are available from your primary care provider, the Frederick County Health Department, and at several local pharmacies.

Which Vaccines Do I Need?

To help provide immunity before you’re exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends on-time vaccinations. These are the recommended vaccinations at various stages of life:

Pregnancy

  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): At least 1 month before pregnancy
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap): During the third trimester
  • Yearly seasonal flu shot: By the end of October

Infant and Toddlers (birth to age 2)

  • Chickenpox (varicella): At 12-15 months
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP): At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15-18 months
  • Flu shot: Every year by the end of October, starting at 6 months
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12-15 months
  • Hepatitis A: At 12-23 months and again at 6 months, following the first dose
  • Hepatitis B: Shortly after birth, at 1-2 months, and 6-18 months
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): At 12-15 months (though infants 6-11 months traveling abroad should have one dose before leaving the country)
  • Pneumococcal (PCV13): At 2 months, 4 months, and 6-18 months
  • Polio (IPV): At 2 months, 4 months, and 6-18 months
  • Rotavirus (RV): At 2 and 4 months, or 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months (depending on the brand)

Preschool and Elementary School (ages 3-10)

  • Chickenpox (varicella): At 4-6 years
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP): At 4-6 years
  • Flu shot: Every year by the end of October
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): At 4-6 years
  • Polio (IPV): At 4-6 years

Preteen and Teen (ages 11-18)

  • Flu shot: Every year by the end of October
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): At 11-12 years and again 6-12 months after the first dose
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine: At 11-12 years and 16 years
  • Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine: At 16-23 years, if interested
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap): At 11-12 years

Adulthood (18+)

  • Flu shot: Ever year by the end of October
  • Td vaccine: Every 10 years
  • Shingles vaccine: At 50 years and older
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine: At 65 years or older, followed by one dose of thepneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine
  • Adults 65 years and older with certain conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or HIV should also get one or both of these vaccines
  • Other vaccines recommended by your primary care provider and based on health conditions, job, lifestyle, or travel habits

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about immunizations and why they’re important? Visit any of the helpful resources below.