As school begins, the weather is beginning to change, and illnesses begin to spread it's important to stay protected! One of the best ways to stay protected and protect others is through vaccines. This article is dedicated to telling you everything you need to know about vaccines, why they are important, and which ones are most relevant to you at this age!
Q: What are immunizations and why do I need to get them?
A: Immunizations are injections that protect your body against diseases. They protect your body by imitating an infection so your body’s immune system can build up the necessary antibodies to fight these infections when you are exposed in the future. It is important to get immunizations so that you do not get sick when you are exposed to these diseases. Immunizations also help those around you by preventing the spread of diseases and by protecting people with weak immune systems who can’t get vaccines like people with cancer or HIV/AIDS.
Q: What are some common yet important immunizations? And what do they protect me against?
A: You get many different immunizations growing up! These are childhood vaccines required by most doctor offices and schools:
- Hepatitis B vaccine: Protects you from a virus that attacks your liver that could lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.
- DTaP (< 7 years old) or Tdap vaccine (> 7 years old): Protects you from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Diphtheria is an infection that causes heart problems and difficulty breathing. Tetanus can cause severe muscle contractions that can cause “lockjaw” which leads to difficulty opening the mouth, swallowing, or breathing. Pertussis or “whooping cough” is a serious respiratory infection and can even be deadly in babies.
- Pneumonia vaccines: You receive many different ones from early childhood into late adulthood. These help protect from pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and blood infections.
- Hib vaccine: Protects against Haemophilus influenza type b which can cause ear infections, meningitis (infection of your brain and spinal cord), or bloodstream infections.
- Polio vaccine: Protects you from an infection that attacks your spinal cord and can cause paralysis.
- MMR vaccine: Protects against measles, mumps, and rubella which are very infectious. Measles causes fever, cough, nasal congestion, and a rash but can lead to a serious infection that affects the brain. Mumps causes fever, muscle aches, and headache and can lead to swelling of your salivary glands. Rubella causes fever, rash, and sore throat, but can be especially dangerous in pregnant women.
- Varicella vaccine: Protects against chickenpox which is a very contagious infection that causes rash and fever.
- Hepatitis A vaccine: Protects you from a liver infection that is very contagious and can make you sick for many weeks.
- HPV vaccine: Protects against human papillomavirus which is an infection that can cause cancers later in life.
- Meningococcal vaccines: Protect against an infection that attacks the brain, spinal cord, and bloodstream. This infection is severe and often can be deadly.
Q: I am leaving for college soon; do I need to get more vaccines? If so, what are they?
A: Check with your college website, but most colleges require the same childhood vaccines (listed above) that high schools and doctor offices require. During your adolescent years, you should receive 2-3 doses of the HPV vaccine. You also need 2 different types of meningococcal vaccines: MenACWY and MenB. This protects you from different types of meningitis infections and both of these vaccines have 2 doses each. You also need a Tdap vaccine every 10 years so you may require a booster. Lastly, we always recommend you get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines so that you stay healthy and don’t miss out on any fun events during college!
Jessica Hukill, DO USF Pediatrics, PGY-3
University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine