The importance of immunizations

Immunization is key to preventing disease among the general population. Vaccines benefit both the people who receive them, and the vulnerable, unvaccinated people around them, because the infection can no longer spread through the community if most people are immunized. In addition, immunizations reduce the number of deaths and disability from infections, such as measles, whooping cough, and chickenpox.

Although children receive the majority of the vaccinations, adults also need to be sure they are already immune to certain infections and/or stay up-to-date on certain vaccinations, including varicella, seasonal influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella, zoster, human papillomavirus, pneumococcal (polysaccharide), hepatitis A and B, flu, and meningococcal. Childhood illnesses, such as mumps, measles, and chickenpox can cause serious complications in adults.

About guidelines for childhood immunizations

Many childhood diseases can now be prevented by following recommended guidelines for vaccinations:

A child's first vaccination is given at birth. Immunizations are scheduled throughout childhood, with many beginning within the first few months of life. By following a regular schedule, and making sure a child is immunized at the right time, you're ensuring the best defense against dangerous childhood diseases.

Please visit the Online Resources page for the most up-to-date guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Reactions to immunizations

As with any medication, vaccinations may cause reactions, usually in the form of a sore arm or low-grade fever. Although serious reactions are rare, they can happen, and your child's doctor or nurse may discuss these with you before giving the shots. However, the risks for contracting the diseases the immunizations provide protection from are higher than the risks for having a reaction to the vaccine.

Treating mild reactions to immunizations in children:

Aspirin and the risk of Reye's syndrome in children

Aspirin shouldn't be given to children or teenagers because of the risk for Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease. Therefore, pediatricians and other health care providers recommend that aspirin not be used to treat any fever in children.

If more serious symptoms occur, call your child's doctor right away. These symptoms may include:

About adult immunizations

Although children receive the majority of the vaccinations, adults also need to stay up-to-date on certain vaccinations, including tetanus and diphtheria. In addition, those adults who have never had chickenpox or measles during childhood (nor the vaccines against these specific diseases) should consider being vaccinated. Childhood illnesses, such as mumps, measles, and chickenpox, can cause serious complications in adults.

Adults with certain medical conditions and who are planning to travel to foreign countries may also need to be immunized. Always consult your doctor.

Who should immunize against the flu?

The flu causes complications that may develop into a more serious disease or become dangerous to some groups, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions. For these reasons, the CDC recommends that the following groups be immunized each year:

In addition, the following groups should be vaccinated:

Always consult your doctor for more information regarding who should receive the flu vaccine.

Who should get a pneumococcal vaccine?

This vaccine helps prevent pneumonia and blood infections caused by the bacteria, pneumococcus. It is recommended that people age 65 and older receive the vaccine. Younger people with heart problems, lung disease, diabetes, cirrhosis, kidney problems, or certain patients with cancer should also receive the vaccine. The vaccine is given only once, except in people with certain medical problems. Consult your doctor for information on the pneumococcal vaccine.

Who should get tetanus and diphtheria shots?

Tetanus toxoid prevents lockjaw, an illness which causes painful muscle spasms and can be fatal. Everyone needs a tetanus shot at least once every 10 years. People who haven't had a tetanus shot in the last five years and have a dirty cut or wound will generally be given one.

Diphtheria is an infection of the throat that can damage the heart or lungs. Like the tetanus shot, all people need a diphtheria shot once every 10 years.

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