What are vaccinations and immunizations?

Immunization refers to making a person immune to a disease by giving a vaccine that will stimulate antibody production to fight the disease. A vaccine is made up of miniscule amounts of weak or dead germs that cause diseases that can be given in the form of injection, oral drugs or nasal spray.

Vaccines play an integral role in keeping you and the community healthy.

Routine vaccines

Many routine vaccinations are used to prevent disease in the United States and often administered during a visit to your doctor's office. Talk to your primary care doctor or your child's pediatrician to ensure that all vaccinations are up-to-date and learn more about the CDC recommendations for vaccines.

Chicken pox – Children who have never had chicken pox should get two doses of chickenpox vaccine.

Diphtheria – Combined with forms of tetanus vaccine, you need regular diphtheria vaccination throughout your life to prevent a serious bacterial infection of the nose and throat.

Flu – Influenza vaccines change every year based on the prediction of which viral flu strains will be most common. Though getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee you will avoid the flu, it will still build your antibodies to help fight the virus.

Hepatitis A and B – All children should receive vaccinations to prevent hepatitis A and B, available separately or in a combination vaccine. Adults who are have an increased risk for hepatitis A or B should receive additional doses of the vaccine.

Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) – Protects children and infants from a number of illnesses caused by a bacterial disease. An Hib vaccine is recommended for all children under the age of five.

HPV (Human Papilomavirus) – HPV is a very common infection that most people will develop at least once in their life, often showing no symptoms. The vaccine prevents HPV infections from turning cancerous and is recommended for adolescents.

Measles – A two-dose vaccination effectively protects against this contagious virus, combined with the rubella, mumps and occasionally chickenpox vaccines.

Meningococcal – Adolescents should receive a vaccination for meningitis, a serious bacterial infection in the spine and brain. In some cases, this vaccine may be given during infancy or require extra doses of the vaccine.

Mumps – Part of the measles and rubella vaccination series, the mumps vaccine prevents a previously common disease notably characterized by swelling.

Pneumococcal – Protects against disease that can lead to pneumonia and other serious complications. It is recommended at least once for children under two years of age and adults over 65. Some adolescents and adults with higher risk for pneumonia may require an additional vaccine.

Polio – Children should receive a four-dose series of polio vaccination to prevent this paralyzing disease, which has been nearly eradicated in the United States since development of the vaccine. Those traveling to a country where polio is still common may need an extra vaccine.

Rotavirus – All infants should receive rotavirus vaccines very early in life to prevent this diarrhoeal disease common among young children.

Rubella – Part of the measles and mumps vaccination and prevents a contagious viral infection.

Shingles – Caused by the same virus as chicken pox, this disease is painful and can have serious complications. Healthy adults over the age of 50 should receive a vaccination for shingles.

Tetanus – Infants and young children need several doses of tetanus vaccination, combined with the diphtheria vaccine, to prevent tetanus, also known as lockjaw. As an adolescent or adult, you need an additional tetanus vaccine roughly every 10 years. 

Whooping coughWhooping cough or pertussis is a common respiratory infection in young children which can have serious complications. Infants, expecting parents and those who work with young children should get vaccinated for pertussis, combined with tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.

Rare vaccines

Vaccinations are also sometimes needed to prevent otherwise uncommon illnesses if you have a higher risk or have already contracted one. Most preventable rare diseases are associated with travel outside of the United States and certain occupations. Talk to your primary care doctor about possible exposure to and vaccinations for these conditions.

Anthrax – Vaccination for this serious bacterial infection is recommended for those who work with animals, in some laboratories or in the military

Japanese encephalitis – This viral infection, which can spread to the brain, is contracted through mosquito bites found most commonly in Asia and western Pacific areas. If you travel to this area, you might consider getting the vaccine.

Rabies – A rabies vaccine is often administered to someone who has been bitten by a wild animal. Those working with animals should get vaccinated preemptively to prevent this deadly viral disease which is spread through saliva from rabid animals.

Smallpox – This serous viral infection is nearly non-existent today, so routine vaccines aren’t required and only recommended for those who work with the virus in labs. 

Tuberculosis – Vaccination to protect against tuberculosis is rarely administered in the United States, but sometimes given to children in countries where TB is common.

Typhoid fever – This life-threatening bacterial disease is only common today in developing countries. The typhoid vaccine series is only recommended if you are traveling to these areas.

Yellow fever – A vaccine for yellow fever typically provides lifelong protection and is only needed if you plan to travel to African or South American regions where the virus is carried by mosquitoes.

Find a nearby primary care doctor

Mercy Health locations that can treat you