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Recently Dr. Judith Hunt, internist and pediatrician, discussed the importance of vaccines with members of the Banner High Country Seniors.

Vaccines play an important role in protecting your health and the health of your family and community. Vaccines are one of our best defenses against many serious infectious diseases, and have saved millions of lives.

When a pathogen — a disease-causing bacteria or virus — enters your body, your immune system recognizes the intruder and jumps into action. One of the ways your immune system protects you is by producing antibodies that help destroy and remove the intruder. Each time the immune system is exposed to a pathogen, it builds up defenses. So the next time the immune system encounters the same pathogen, it has developed immunity and can remove it more quickly, preventing illness. This immunity develops each time we get sick from a bacteria or virus.

But you don’t have to get sick from an infectious disease to develop immunity — you can get vaccinated. Vaccines develop immunity by imitating an infection. Each vaccine triggers the immune system to produce specific antibodies needed to protect you from these illnesses in the future.

You may think of vaccination as something only children need, but ALL adults also need to be vaccinated to protect their health, and the health of loved ones, against potentially serious infections. Here’s why you still need vaccinations no matter how old you are.

Some vaccines you received when you were younger can wear off so you may need a booster. An example of a vaccine that needs a regular booster is Td/Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis). Also, if there are vaccines you never had as a child, it may be recommended that you get them as an adult. Some of these are: MMR (measles, mumps and rubella; HPV (human papillomavirus); Varicella (chickenpox); Hepatitis A and B.

It is important to get the flu vaccine every single year, as it’s updated annually to best defend against the constantly changing virus and immunity decreases over the year. Your job, lifestyle, health status, or travel may require additional vaccinations.

As we age, our immune systems weaken and put us at a higher risk for certain diseases like shingles or pneumonia, and their complications. So after age 60 there are additional vaccines that are recommended. Certain diseases and conditions can make it harder to fight off infection. And with some chronic diseases, the complications of infection can be more severe. For example, getting the flu if you have heart disease increases the stress on your heart, and therefore, your risk of heart attack. If you have diabetes, flu infection can raise your blood glucose to dangerous levels. And if you have impaired lung function, the infection can lead to pneumonia and other serious respiratory illnesses.

Once you get vaccinated you are less likely to get sick, which means you are also less likely to get others sick. The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer opportunities a disease has to spread. This means getting your recommended vaccines not only protects you, it protects the people around you too — such as infants who are too young to be vaccinated, or people with weakened immune systems who are at higher risk of severe illness.

Vaccines are safe and rigorously tested before approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also monitor vaccine safety and effectiveness once they’re in use.

Most side effects from vaccines are mild and go away on their own (for example, swelling, or itching at the site of injection). Severe side effects are rare.

Since vaccines work by imitating natural infections, they contain either a killed or weakened virus or bacteria, or pieces of these pathogens. They may also contain preservatives that keep the vaccine safe while being stored. And some certain substances called adjuvants, which improve the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Some people may be allergic to one, or more, of the ingredients in vaccines. And women who are pregnant, people who have weakened immune systems, or have certain diseases or conditions, may be advised against getting live vaccines such as those for measles, mumps, and rubella, chicken pox, and shingles.

Talk to your health care professional and visit the CDC’s website at to get detailed information on what vaccines are recommended for you.

You can get vaccinated at your health care professional’s office, neighborhood pharmacy, health departments, community health clinics, and even at some workplaces. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of routinely recommended vaccines, although you should confirm this before getting vaccinated.

Every year, thousands of people in the U.S. are hospitalized or die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Millions more are unable to go to work, care for their families, and take care of their other responsibilities while they recover from illnesses that could have been prevented or made less severe with vaccination.

Take control of your health by making sure you are up-to-date on all the vaccines recommended.

For more information visit:

Sources: Research, A. F. (2016, July 28). Our Best Shot: The Importance of Vaccines for Older Adults. Retrieved from

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