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Vaccines, also called immunizations, are a hot topic. Nearly everyone has an opinion about their effectiveness and safety, and whether it’s a community responsibility to get or not-get vaccinated.

Before you form your own opinion, it’s important to know the basic facts about how they work and what they protect against. 

1. How do vaccines work? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a vaccine mimics an infection, so the body can build up immunity against it. Once this imitation virus has left the body, the immune system will remember how to fight the real virus.

2. Are there different types of vaccines? There are five main types of vaccines that infants, children and adults can receive:

  • Live vaccines contain a weakened version of the live virus to help teach the immune system how to fight it. The chicken pox vaccine is an example. These vaccines are only used on those with healthy immune systems.

  • Inactivated vaccines produce immune responses through viruses that are not live. Inactivated vaccines, such as the polio vaccine, usually require more then one dose in order to build up full immunity.

  • Subunit vaccines only contain parts of the virus rather then the entire germ making side effects less common. The Hepatitis B vaccination is a common subunit vaccine.

  • Toxoid Vaccines teach the immune system how to fight off bacteria that release toxin by introducing a weakened version of the toxin into the body. If you have ever gotten a tetanus shot, then you have received a toxoid vaccine!

  • Conjugate Vaccines help the bodyfight a type of bacteria that is hard for the immune system to identify and respond to. Hib (stands for Haemophilus Influenzae Type b) is a conjugate vaccine.

3. Why do I have to get a vaccine more then once? Some vaccines need more then one dose in order for the body to build up full immunity. Often this occurs with inactivated vaccines because they are not as strong.

4. Will a vaccinne cause side-effects? Any vaccine can cause side effects. Most are minor, such as a sore arm where the shot was administered or a very low fever. Side effects should go away within a few days. Anyone who has more severe side effects should immediately call the doctor. 

5. How are vaccines tested? Vaccines go through a long safety testing process before they can be licensed or recommended by doctors. Even after a vaccine has been licensed, it continues to undergo monitoring and surveillance to ensure its continued safety. Several government organizations oversee the usage and safety of vaccinations including the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH).

On the fence about vaccinations for yourself or your children? Talk with your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for an expert opinion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites also have a wealth of information on vaccines, how they work or current research.

School Rules

Many schools – from elementary to university – require an immunization record with a child’s school registration or before the start of a new school year. Your doctor can provide you with a copy. If you’ve opted against vaccinating, check with the school to find out the requirements and what alternate paperwork you may have to submit.