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Immunizations help keep you and your child from getting certain diseases that can be spread to other people (infectious diseases). They also help reduce the spread of disease to others and prevent epidemics. Immunizations are also called vaccines or vaccinations.
If you get a vaccine, it may not completely prevent you from getting a disease. But it does make it much less likely. If you get a disease even after you have been vaccinated, it usually will be just a mild case.
Vaccines are most often given as a shot (injection). Some are given by mouth as a pill or liquid. Others may be given as a spray (aerosol) into the nose.
Immunizations save lives. They are the best way to help protect you or your child from getting certain diseases that can be spread to other people (infectious diseases). And there are often no medical treatments for these diseases.
They also help reduce the spread of disease to others to prevent sudden outbreaks of the disease, called epidemics. Preventing the spread of disease is very important for people with weak immune systems. These people may not be able to get vaccines, or vaccines don't work well for them. Their only protection is for others to get vaccinated so illnesses are less common.
Other reasons why vaccines are important:
Most side effects from vaccines are minor, if they occur at all. They may include:
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about other reactions that could occur. Serious reactions, such as trouble breathing or a high fever, are rare.
If you or your child has an unusual reaction, call your doctor. It's much more dangerous to risk getting the diseases than to risk having a serious reaction to the vaccines.
Vaccines are safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carefully evaluates all vaccines for safety. Federal law requires health professionals to report any reaction following an immunization to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). For more information about how vaccine safety is checked, see www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/index.html.
The risk of a serious complication from a disease is far greater than the risk from the vaccine. For example, 1 child in a group of 20 unvaccinated children may die from diphtheria disease. But only 1 child in a group of 14,000 vaccinated children may have convulsions or shock after getting the DTaP vaccine. And that child would recover fully.footnote 1
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works with experts and then recommends immunization schedules for the year. The schedules outline the immunizations and booster shots needed.
The schedules are designed to work best with a child's immune system at certain ages and at certain times. They're set up so that your child gets the best protection possible at the earliest age possible from the fewest shots possible.
The CDC recommends schedules for healthy children, teens, and adults. The CDC also has vaccine recommendations for people who have health problems, such as asthma or diabetes, and in other circumstances, like pregnancy.
The schedules are based on the best research available. Experts change them as needed.
A different schedule may not provide protection for your child. If shots are spread out or skipped, a child may get the disease during the delay.
Go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/vaccines-list.html for the most current information.
Schedules based on age
It is important to keep accurate records of immunizations, including any reactions to the vaccines. When you enroll your child in day care or school, you may need to show proof of immunizations. And your child may need the record later in life for college, employment, or travel.
Put reminder notes on your calendar or on your phone. You also may want to ask your doctor to send you notices when immunizations are due.
Have your doctor go over your child's immunization record with you during each office visit.
It is an important part of your child's lifelong medical records.
Check with the nearest travel health clinic, your regional health department, your doctor, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/travel to see what kind of vaccines you should get.
You may need vaccines to protect against:
You may need other immunizations. It depends on the area you are visiting, how long you will be there, and the purpose of your journey. For example, if you will be in rural Asia for a month or longer, you may need a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis. Or you may need to take medicine for malaria.
Call 911 or other emergency services if you or your child has:
Call your doctor if:
Talk with your doctor about whether you need special immunizations because you:
Many immunizations are given as shots (injections). They may cause brief pain as the needle goes into the skin or muscle. Some vaccines cause more pain than others.
Basic home care can help relieve some of the common, temporary, mild reactions to immunizations. These reactions include fever, swelling or redness, fretfulness, and poor appetite.
A mild skin rash may appear 7 to 14 days after someone gets a shot for chickenpox or measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). These types of rashes can last several days. They go away without treatment.
Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever if the doctor says it is okay. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
Put the cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the cold pack and the skin.
CitationsNational Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (2007, accessed November 2011). Some common misconceptions about vaccination and how to respond to them. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/6mishome.htm.
Current as of: June 12, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review BoardAll Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: June 12, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review BoardAll Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
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