The Importance of Vaccines

VaccinationsDecades ago, diseases like polio, measles, and whooping cough made hundreds of thousands of infants, children, and adults in the U.S. sick. Today, most doctors rarely see cases of these diseases.

What changed? In a word: vaccines.

Vaccines Protect Communities

Vaccines have slowed or stopped the spread of many diseases in the U.S. They work by exposing your body to weak or dead versions of disease-causing germs or viruses. Your immune system then builds up resources to fight those bugs in the future.

Still, every few years, an outbreak rears its ugly head. For example, in 2013 several measles outbreaks were reported around the country, including large outbreaks in New York City and Texas. These outbreaks mainly occurred among groups with low vaccination rates.

Many of these diseases harm infants, pregnant women, older adults, and people who are already sick. But vaccines aren’t always safe for these groups. That’s why even healthy young adults need shots. If most of a community is immunized, it’s harder for a contagious disease to spread.

Shots for Children

Your pediatrician can give you an immunization schedule just for your child. Standard guidelines recommend the following schedule:

  • Hepatitis B: birth, 1 to 2 months, and 6 to 18 months
  • Rotavirus: 2 months, 4 months, and sometimes 6 months
  • DTaP: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, 4 to 6 years
  • Tdap: 11 to 12 years
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): 2 months, 4 months, sometimes 6 months, and 12 to 15 months
  • Pneumococcal vaccines: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12 to 15 months
  • Polio: 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years
  • Flu: one or two doses yearly beginning at 6 months
  • Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR): 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years. However, the CDC recommends that children receive the first dose between the ages of 6 to 11 months if they will be traveling or living abroad.
  • Varicella (chickenpox): 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years.
  • Hepatitis A: two doses between 12 and 23 months
  • Meningococcal: 11 to 12 years, booster shot at 16 years
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): 11 to 12 years

Special schedules are available for high-risk children or those who fall behind on their vaccines.

Shots for Adults

Adults of all ages may need the Tdap and MMR vaccines, along with shots against flu, hepatitis A and B, and meningococcal disease. Young women up to age 26 and men through age 21 should receive the HPV vaccine, and adults ages 50 and older should get a zoster shot.

Pregnant women and adults with HIV, diabetes, or other diseases may have different recommendations. Talk with your doctor to be sure you’re getting the shots you need.

Take the Next Step

A primary care provider (PCP) can help ensure you and your family get the needed vaccinations. Learn more here about the health benefits of partnering with a PCP.