McFarland Clinic

What to Know About Immunizations

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August 19, 2021

Vaccines protect you and your family from disease and illness. Here's what you should know about why immunizations are important, vaccine safety, and what immunizations you need.

What is a vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a vaccine creates an immune response to a specific disease for someone, without that person being infected by the disease. Immunization is the process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity happens when a large enough percentage of people are vaccinated against a disease that even unvaccinated people are protected from that disease.

“If you protect a sick person with people who are immune to a disease, it’s almost like forming a wall where that disease can no longer spread,” says Taylor Hircock, MD, a family medicine physician at McFarland Clinic in Carroll.

Dr. Hircock says achieving herd immunity through mass vaccination is a “very safe, effective, controlled manner." He adds that the alternative–achieving immunity through allowing disease to occur–”allows a lot of complications, illness, hospitalizations, and medical care that would otherwise not be needed.”

What about breakthrough infections?

While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, they are still extremely successful in preventing infection. Most vaccines are also effective at preventing more serious disease and complications in the event of an infection.

“Typically for people who do have vaccines and get breakthrough illness, often it’s less severe because your body has formed at least a partial response to the illness,” Dr. Hircock says.

Are vaccines safe?

“Vaccines are very safe,” says Dr. Hircock. FDA-approved vaccines have been studied in hundreds of thousands of people or more.

“Oftentimes people are comparing the risks of getting a vaccine with the risks of not getting a vaccine,” Dr. Hirock says, “when the proper way to think about it is the risk of getting a vaccine versus the risk of getting an illness.”

Do vaccines have side effects?

Side effects can occur, but most are mild and short-lived. Anaphylaxis–an allergic reaction–may be possible in rare cases, but typically only for people who have a history of allergic reactions. Dr. Hircock recommends talking with your doctor if you have any concerns about side effects.

What immunizations do I need?

The CDC has published recommended schedules of immunizations for kids and adults on their website:

If you’re not sure which immunizations you or your child have already had, talk to your doctor. They may already have a record or may be able to check a state record.

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