Vaccines For Dummies
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Vaccinations are a hot topic today. While vaccines can have some side effects, the benefits outweigh any possible risks. Vaccines have saved untold numbers of lives. Many previously feared childhood and adult diseases have been eliminated. Take a look at the entire vaccination process.

vaccine being administered © Studio Romantic /

How to talk to your pediatrician about vaccinations

The topic of vaccinations comes up very early in your child’s life — right after birth, in fact. That’s why it’s important to talk to your pediatrician before your baby is even born, so that you know what’s being given and why it’s important. Here are some general questions to ask:

  • Do you follow the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule for immunizing infants and children?
  • Does a minor illness prevent my child from getting their vaccinations?
  • When shouldn’t my child get an immunization?
  • What are the most common side effects of these vaccinations?
  • What should I give my child for any side effects?
  • Is there anything I should watch for or call you about after vaccination?
  • What can we do to distract my child from any pain from the vaccine?
  • How often do we need to come to the pediatrician’s office for vaccines?

Vaccinations for adults

When we think about vaccines, we often think about kids heading to the doctor to get their shots…and, hopefully, getting a lollipop afterward! While children do get the lion’s share of vaccinations, adults also need boosters of previous vaccines as well as vaccinations meant just for adults. Vaccinations for adults include the following:

  • COVID-19 vaccine: Every adult should be given the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination is the best way to keep pandemic outbreaks under control.
  • Boosters of previously given vaccines: Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) are examples. All these vaccines decrease in effectiveness over time.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine: Because this vaccine is fairly recent, you may not have had it as a tween or teen. Adults up to age 26 should have this vaccine.
  • Influenza vaccine: Because the strain of flu changes from year to year, you need a flu shot every fall, particularly as you get older and more prone to flu complications.
  • Shingles vaccine: If you had chicken pox, the virus remains in your system and can reactivate as shingles, a very painful disorder with lesions that cause nerve pain. Every adult over age 50 should have the shingles vaccine unless health issues prevent it.

Different types of vaccines

Vaccines are created in different ways. They differ either because they were formulated at a time when most vaccines were made that way, or because scientists found it to be the most effective way to create immunity against a certain disease without causing harm. Here are the main types of vaccines:

  • Live-attenuated vaccines use a small, weakened part of the germ that causes the disease. These vaccines create a strong immune response but can also cause more side effects.
  • Inactivated vaccines are made from killed parts of the germ. There’s no chance of getting sick from inactivated vaccines.
  • Subunit vaccines contain a specific part of the germ that makes you sick. It could be a protein or sugar from the surface of the germ. These vaccines won’t make you sick, but they also don’t last as long as live vaccines, requiring boosters.
  • Toxoid vaccines protect against diseases where the toxin produced by the germ is what actually makes you sick. The toxoids used in the vaccines create antibodies against the toxins, not the germ, and are themselves harmless.
  • Nucleic acid vaccines, including the mRNA vaccine: The COVID-19 vaccine falls into this category; it’s also the first vaccine of this type. The vaccine sends a set of instructions to cells on how to make proteins, or antigens, that produce an immune response.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Matthew M. F. Miller is a father and uncle. He is the author of Maybe Baby: An Infertile Love Story.

Sharon Perkins is a mother and grandmother, as well as a seasoned author and registered nurse with 25+ years’ experience providing prenatal and labor and delivery care.

Megan Coffee, MD, PhD, is a faculty member at the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University Hospital. She is an attending physician in infectious diseases at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and teaches on communicable diseases in humanitarian crises at Columbia University. She collaborates with a team at NYU to better predict disease severity in COVID.

Sharon Perkins, RN, is the co-author of more than 10 For Dummies titles including Pregnancy For Dummies, Healthy Aging For Dummies, Dad’s Guide to Baby’s First Year For Dummies, and most recently, Getting Pregnant For Dummies.

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