August is National Immunization Awareness Month


Not Just for Kids

Immunizations help prevent dangerous, and sometimes deadly, diseases. To stay protected against serious illnesses like the flu, measles, and tuberculosis, everyone needs to get their shots – even adults.

Many people tend to think of immunizations as a precaution for children. But the truth is that adults, even healthy ones, need to get vaccinations to protect their health. Every year, thousands of adults in the U.S. needlessly suffer, are hospitalized, and even die from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines.

Getting immunized doesn’t just protect you. It also prevents you from spreading illnesses to those around you. Immunization is especially important for anyone who is in close contact with the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems, and those who cannot get vaccinated.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which is a great time to make sure you have all of the vaccinations you need and remind family, friends, and coworkers to stay up-to-date on their shots.

How Vaccines Work

To build immunity to a germ or virus, you must first be exposed to it. A vaccination stops the germs in their tracks before they have a chance to multiply and make you ill. It rallies the forces of the immune system before the battle has a chance to begin. By so doing, vaccination confers immunity against disease.

The vaccination process mimics what would happen naturally when a potentially harmful bacterium or virus breaches the body’s defenses, but with one essential difference — there’s no harmful germ involved. Instead, the vaccine contains a recognizable but defanged version of the pathogen. When you’re vaccinated, your innate immune system is fooled into thinking that a pathogen has gotten in. A signal goes to the T cells and B cells of the adaptive immune system, which quickly launch an attack as if a real pathogen were invading. Finally, the response winds down, leaving in place the long-lived memory T cells and B cells fully briefed for future encounters. Most vaccines don’t prevent pathogens from entering your body, but rather they just make sure your immune system blocks them quickly and keeps them from making you sick.

What Vaccines do You Need?

All adults should get an influenza (flu) vaccine each year to protect against the seasonal flu. Every adult should also get the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent and a Td booster shot every 10 years to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria. Pregnant women should also get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably sometime between 27 and 36 weeks.

Depending on your age, occupation, health status, and other risk factors, you may also need vaccinations for shingles, pneumococcal, hepatitis, and HPV.

Talk to your doctor to find out which vaccines are recommended for you and to ensure all your vaccinations are up to date. Many vaccines are also available at pharmacies, community health clinics, and health departments.