Brookings Health System

Immunizations

Friendly female nurse administering a vaccination shot to a little girlVaccinations are a highly effective, easy way to keep people healthy. On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.

Adults need to keep their vaccinations up to date because immunity from childhood vaccines can wear off over time. You are also at risk for different diseases as an adult. Vaccination is one of the most convenient and safest preventive care measures available.


What diseases do vaccinations protect against?

Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria; a virus like COVID-19 or influenza; or fungi. It is the leading cause of hospitalization for both children and adults. It most commonly spreads through coughing, sneezing, touching or even breathing. The infection inflames your lungs’ air sacs and causes them to fill up with fluid or pus. Symptoms include cough, fever, chills and difficulty breathing.

An annual flu shot to prevent influenza and the COVID-19 vaccine help prevent viral pneumonia. Staying up-to-date on vaccines for pertussis (whooping cough), chicken pox and measles can also prevent pneumonia.

Children under 5, adults over 65 should and persons with certain medical conditions should get vaccinated against the pneumococcal pneumonia, the most common form of bacterial pneumonia. Pneumococcal vaccines lower your chance of catching bacterial pneumonia or may reduce the severity of the illness if you do get sick. For adults ages 65 and older, two shots given one year a part will last you the rest of your life.

DTaP and Tdap vaccines protect against three bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Tetanus, sometimes referred to as “lockjaw,” is caused by bacteria found in dirt. Once it enters the body, it releases a toxin that attacks the nervous system and causes painful stiffening. It can lead to serious health problems, including muscle spasms, inability to open the mouth, having trouble swallowing or breathing and death.

Diptheria is a respiratory disease that causes breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and death. It’s highly contagious and is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Pertussis, also called “whooping cough,” causes uncontrollable, violent coughing that makes it difficult to breathe, eat or drink. It can be extremely serious, especially in babies and young children. It can lead to pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage or death. In teens and adults, it can cause weight loss, loss of bladder control, passing out and rib fractures from severe coughing.

Everyone needs to be vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Children should receive a five-dose series of DTaP starting at 2 months old. Beginning at age 11 or 12, one Tdap booster shot every 10 years continues to provide protection for older children and adults. Parents expecting a baby are also encouraged to get the vaccine in order to protect their newborn.

Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

Chickenpox is highly contagious childhood disease that causes an itchy, blister-like rash that eventually turns into scabs. It can be serious and can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy children. A person with chickenpox is contagious beginning one to two days before the rash occurs until all the chickenpox has scabbed over and crusted. The best way to prevent chickenpox is with the chickenpox vaccine. Anyone who has never had chickenpox before should get two doses of the chickenpox vaccine. Bonus: the chickenpox vaccine can also protect against shingles.

Shingles are a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in anyone who has had chickenpox. The virus remains dormant inside the body’s nerves. For many people their immune system will keep the virus in check for the rest of their lives. But for one in three people, the virus will suddenly reemerge and cause the painful, blistering skin rash of shingles. You cannot get shingles from someone who has them. You can, however, get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you have never had chickenpox before or received the chickenpox vaccine.

Your risk of developing shingles increases as you age. If you’re age 50 or older, two doses of the shingles vaccine can protect you from getting sick.

Measles, mumps and rubella are three childhood viral diseases that can be very serious.

Measles, also referred to as rubeola, is a childhood infection that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected person. The virus is transmitted by airborne droplets that form when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Tell-tales signs include a red skin rash with large, flat blotches that run into one another. Other signs and symptoms include a fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes and tiny white spots with bluish-white centers inside the mouth called Kloplik’s spots. Complications from measles may include an ear infection; bronchitis; laryngitis; croup; pneumonia; or encephalitis.

The mumps virus infects the salivary glands located near the ears. It passes from person to person through infected saliva. Mumps causes the salivary glands to swell and cause cheeks to puff out. Other symptoms may include pain in the swollen salivary glands on one or both sides of the face; pain while chewing or swallowing; fever, headache; muscle aches; weakness and fatigue; and loss of appetite. Complications from mumps includes painful swelling in the testicles; inflammation of the brain; meningitis around the brain and spinal cord; and pancreatitis.

Rubella, also referred to as German measles, is a viral infection that spreads when a person coughs or sneezes. It is also known for a red rash. Other symptoms include mild fever; headache; stuffy or runny nose; inflamed, red eyes; enlarged, tender lymph nodes; and aching joints.

The MMR vaccine protects against these three serious childhood illnesses. A two shot series starting can protect children from these diseases and their potential life-long effects. The first does should be given at 12 to 15 months of age. The second dose should be given at 4 to 6 years of age.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection. Almost all unvaccinated persons who are sexually active will get HPV at some point in their life. While most HPV infections will go away on their own, high-risk HPV infections will cause certain types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal and vulva cancers in women; penile cancers in men; and anal and throat cancers in both women and men.

Preventing cancer with the HPV vaccine is better than treating cancer later in life. Preteens ages 11 to 12 years should get two doses of HPV vaccine, given six to 12 months apart. This will protect them before they have contact with the virus. Teens and young adults up to age 26 should also get vaccine if they haven’t been immunized already. Some adults ages 27 to 45 may also benefit from vaccination and are encouraged to speak with their primary care provider.


 

This resource is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $148,587 with 0% financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.