Am I up to date on my vaccines?

August is National Immunization Awareness Month (or NIAM), and it comes at a time where health experts are encouraging Americans to get up to date on vaccinations. That makes this an important time to ask yourself: Am I up to date on my vaccines? Over the first part of the coronavirus pandemic, from 2020 to 2021, federal data showed a 14 percent decrease in vaccine ordering.

That decline is likely because we were all staying home more and, as such, skipping regular doctor visits. With fewer COVID-19 restrictions remaining in place, it’s critical to get caught up on both the coronavirus vaccine and all the other important immunizations that help protect our health.

administering vaccines to an older lady

Let’s get into the how, the what, and the why of Vaccines

So, how do vaccines work?

In short, vaccines help teach our immune system how to fight off certain diseases. Our immune systems normally have to learn how to protect us once a new bacteria or virus infects our bodies. But in people already vaccinated against a certain disease, the immune system has a head start in fighting the infection.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how this works, all according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Once administered, vaccines imitate the infections they’re designed to prevent. This is how they “teach” the immune system how to fight that disease later on.

Immunizations can cause slight side effects that go away in a few days – like a fever, tiredness, or pain where the shot was given – while they work in the body. Minor symptoms are normal — all part of the body building immunity.

It often takes a few weeks for the body to develop this immune response. This means that if you were infected with a disease, for example, the day after getting immunized against it, you may still get sick because the vaccine hasn’t had enough time to work yet.

Vaccines don’t guarantee complete immunity against a disease. However, they do make you much less likely to get seriously sick and are considered the best protection from diseases.

What immunizations do I need?

Vaccine needs change over time based on your age and immunization history. However, the CDC keeps a list of recommended vaccines for all ages, including when and how often these immunizations or boosters are needed.

For pregnant people, the CDC recommends the following to help protect you and your child:

The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended at least a month before getting pregnant. This immunization is especially important because it protects against possible miscarriages and birth defects that rubella can cause.

During the third trimester, the CDC recommends tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

A yearly, seasonal flu vaccine is recommended by the end of October.

Here’s a short but still important list of common adult vaccinations:

  • Yearly seasonal flu vaccine.
  • Td vaccine every 10 years.
  • The shingles vaccine, for healthy adults age 50 or older.
  • Adults 65 or older need a dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine followed by a dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.
  • Other adults may need additional vaccines depending on their health, work, or travel.
  • What about the COVID-19 vaccines?
  • The COVID-19 vaccine is now recommended for everyone 6 months or older. Boosters are recommended for everyone who is eligible and age 5 or older. The CDC has separate guidance for people who are immunocompromised.

The vaccines are safe, the CDC says, and “are effective at protecting people—especially those who are boosted— from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying.” Of course, there’s a lot of misinformation out there on all kinds of vaccines, especially the COVID-19 one. Check out this page on the CDC website to have some common myths busted.

In the U.S., there are three primary COVID-19 vaccines:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech,
  • Moderna, and
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.
  • The initial vaccine series is either one or two doses, depending on the brand, plus a booster or two, depending on your age.

These vaccines have been available for more than a year now, which means that many people are eligible for their first or second booster to keep the immunization working as well as possible. It can be confusing to navigate what you do and don’t need, so it’s best to either consult your doctor or check out this chart from the CDC.

The Novavax vaccine was also recently recommended by the CDC. While it has been authorized by the FDA for primary immunization, it has not been authorized as a booster.

As we continue to gather in person and continue our daily lives, it’s important to protect our health with vaccinations.

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