- Medicine Cabinet Pharmacist
Your Immunization Questions—Answered
Updated: Apr 10
Immunizations: They help keep us healthy and protect us from contracting preventable diseases. However, many people don’t know how vaccines work or why they should get vaccinated. We’ll answer the most common immunization questions to help you understand the science behind vaccinations and the importance of staying up to date.
What Are Immunizations?
According to the CDC, immunizations are “a process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination.” (1) These are typically administered through shots but can be in the form of a pill or nasal spray. Immunization prevents anywhere from 3.5 to 5 million deaths each year from life-threatening diseases such as cervical cancer, COVID-19, pneumonia, measles, mumps, yellow fever, hepatitis B, and much more (2).
How Do Immunizations Work?
Vaccinations work by exposing your immune system to a safe version of a disease in the form of: (3)
A protein or sugar from a pathogen
A dead or inactivated form of a pathogen
A modified toxin from a pathogen
A live but weakened form pathogen
The versions of a disease used in vaccinations cannot give you the disease you are being vaccinated for. The most common side effects of a vaccination are mild, such as pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given. Some people may experience a low fever or fatigue.
Vaccines teach the immune system to recognize and eliminate harmful microbes if you are ever exposed to the real disease. (3). Vaccinations give your body a head start making antigens for pathogens. allowing the immune system to react faster if it encounters the actual disease in the future.
Why Should I get Vaccinated?
Getting vaccinated has many benefits. Here are some to consider: (3)
They help prevent diseases that can be life-threatening. They also help prevent future complications that may result from contracting those preventable diseases.
Vaccines are thoroughly investigated and researched before being presented to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. Then, they are carefully reviewed before being recommended to the public. Once approved they are continually monitored for safety.
Some vaccines can help prevent infections that cause cancer, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B.
They can help save you time and money by reducing the number of sick days you would have to take from work or school and help avoid unnecessary medical bills.
They can sometimes eliminate the disease entirely. For example, the smallpox vaccine eradicated smallpox.
Vaccines are highly effective. Some vaccinations can lower the risk of infection by 40-60% while others are as effective as 97%. (3)
Getting vaccinated helps protect yourself and avoid spreading preventable diseases to other people, especially those close to you. Certain people are unable to get vaccinated due to age restrictions, weakened immune systems, or other serious health conditions.
Vaccination side effects are often mild and typically go away on their own within a few days.
If you are planning to travel, send your children to school, or get a new job, you may be required to have certain vaccinations. For example, students, military personnel, and residents of rehabilitation or care centers are required to be vaccinated against diseases that spread in close quarters.
Who Needs What Vaccines and When?
From infancy to late adulthood, the timeline below shows the CDC’s recommended vaccination order. (3)
As you can see, many childhood vaccines are administered in groups or series. This might mean that if you are in the process of getting your children vaccinated, it might seem like they are receiving a lot of shots all at once. It is important to note that this is necessary in order to protect your child from potential illness or complications, as delaying a child’s vaccinations can do more harm than good. If you missed a childhood vaccine, you might be able to get them as an adult depending on the vaccine. (3)
Even as adults we need to get certain vaccinations. Some adulthood vaccinations include the shingles vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine, your yearly flu vaccine, tetanus boosters, and the COVID-19 vaccine. It is also possible to receive boosters for many vaccines based on your sexual activity, health history, personal hobbies, and other factors. (3)
If you plan on traveling, it is also a good idea to make sure you are up to date on your vaccines and double check which vaccines are required for where you are traveling to. You can always check the CDC’s destination pages for travel health information. (7) Here is a quick list of possible vaccinations you may need before you travel: (5)
Hepatitis A & B
Will I Have to Pay?
Most health insurance plans cover vaccines at little to no cost to you. However, if your insurance does not cover vaccines, or you are without insurance, there are alternatives that you may qualify for. These include community health organizations, Vaccines for Children Program (8), and state health departments. (3)
If you do have insurance, here is a list of immunizations that are typically covered depending on your insurance provider. (7)
Hepatitis A & B
Herpes Zoster (shingles)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap)
Varicella (chicken pox)
Be sure to check with your insurance provider to see what vaccines are covered under your plan.
No matter what stage of life you are in, it is important to stay up to date on your immunizations to ensure you are protecting yourself and those around you. If you have any additional questions about how vaccines work, vaccine effectiveness, or scheduling an immunization appointment, contact your doctor or pharmacist.