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Helpful Resources

Vaccines

What are vaccines?

Vaccines are injections (shots), liquids, pills, or nasal sprays that you take to teach your body's immune system to recognize and defend against harmful germs. For example, there are vaccines to protect against diseases caused by:

  • Viruses, like the ones that cause the flu and COVID-19
  • Bacteria, including tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
What are the types of vaccines?

There are several types of vaccines:

  • Live-attenuated vaccines use a weakened form of the germ.
  • Inactivated vaccines use a killed version of the germ.
  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines use only specific pieces of the germ, such as its protein, sugar, or casing.
  • Toxoid vaccines that use a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ.
  • mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA, which gives your cells instructions for how to make a protein (or piece of a protein) of the germ.
  • Viral vector vaccines use genetic material, which gives your cells instructions for making a protein of the germ. These vaccines also contain a different, harmless virus that helps get the genetic material into your cells.

Vaccines work in different ways, but they all spark an immune response. The immune response is the way your body defends itself against substances it sees as foreign or harmful. These substances include germs that can cause disease.

What happens in an immune response?

There are different steps in the immune response:

  • When a germ invades, your body sees it as foreign.
  • Your immune system helps your body fight off the germ.
  • Your immune system also remembers the germ. It will attack the germ if it ever invades again. This "memory" protects you against the disease that the germ causes. This type of protection is called immunity.
What are immunization and vaccination?

Immunization is the process of becoming protected against a disease. But it can also mean the same thing as vaccination, which is getting a vaccine to become protected against a disease.

Why are vaccines important?

Vaccines are important because they protect you against many diseases. These diseases can be very serious. So getting immunity from a vaccine is safer than getting immunity by being sick with the disease. And for a few vaccines, getting vaccinated can actually give you a better immune response than getting the disease would.

But vaccines don't just protect you. They also protect the people around you through community immunity.

What is community immunity?

Community immunity, or herd immunity, is the idea that vaccines can help keep communities healthy.

Normally, germs can travel quickly through a community and make a lot of people sick. If enough people get sick, it can lead to an outbreak. But when enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, it's harder for that disease to spread to others. This type of protection means that the entire community is less likely to get the disease.

Community immunity is especially important for people who can't get certain vaccines. For example, they may not be able to get a vaccine because they have weakened immune systems. Others may be allergic to certain vaccine ingredients. And newborn babies are too young to get some vaccines. Community immunity can help to protect them all.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are safe. They must go through extensive safety testing and evaluation before they are approved in the United States.

What is a vaccine schedule?

A vaccine, or immunization, schedule lists which vaccines are recommended for different groups of people. It includes who should get the vaccines, how many doses they need, and when they should get them. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes the vaccine schedule.

It's important for both children and adults to get their vaccines according to the schedule. Following the schedule allows them to get protection from the diseases at exactly the right time.

Viral Infections

Viruses are very tiny germs. They are made of genetic material inside of a protein coating. Viruses cause familiar infectious diseases such as the common cold, flu and warts. They also cause severe illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and COVID-19.

Viruses are like hijackers. They invade living, normal cells and use those cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves. This can kill, damage, or change the cells and make you sick. Different viruses attack certain cells in your body such as your liver, respiratory system, or blood.

When you get a virus, you may not always get sick from it. Your immune system may be able to fight it off.

For most viral infections, treatments can only help with symptoms while you wait for your immune system to fight off the virus. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections. There are antiviral medicines to treat some viral infections. Vaccines can help prevent you from getting many viral diseases.

Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath, wheezing, a low fever, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.

Most cases of acute bronchitis get better within several days. But your cough can last for several weeks after the infection is gone.

The same viruses that cause colds and the flu often cause acute bronchitis. These viruses spread through the air when people cough, or though physical contact (for example, on unwashed hands). Being exposed to tobacco smoke, air pollution, dusts, vapors, and fumes can also cause acute bronchitis. Less often, bacteria can also cause acute bronchitis.

To diagnose acute bronchitis, your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and listen to your breathing. You may also have other tests.

Treatments include rest, fluids, and aspirin (for adults) or acetaminophen to treat fever. A humidifier or steam can also help. You may need inhaled medicine to open your airways if you are wheezing. Antibiotics won't help if the cause is viral. You may get antibiotics if the cause is bacterial.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Allergy

An allergy is a reaction by your immune system to something that does not bother most other people. People who have allergies often are sensitive to more than one thing. Substances that often cause reactions are:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Pet dander
  • Food
  • Insect stings
  • Medicines

Normally, your immune system fights germs. It is your body's defense system. In most allergic reactions, however, it is responding to a false alarm. Genes and the environment probably both play a role.

Allergies can cause a variety of symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, itching, rashes, swelling, or asthma. Allergies can range from minor to severe. Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction that can be life-threatening. Doctors use skin and blood tests to diagnose allergies. Treatments include medicines, allergy shots, and avoiding the substances that cause the reactions.

Animal Diseases and Your Health

Animal diseases that people can catch are called zoonoses. Many diseases affecting humans can be traced to animals or animal products. You can get a disease directly from an animal, or indirectly, through the environment.

Farm animals can carry diseases. If you touch them or things they have touched, like fencing or buckets, wash your hands thoroughly. Adults should make sure children who visit farms or petting zoos wash up as well.

Though they may be cute and cuddly, wild animals may carry germs, viruses, and parasites. Deer and deer mice carry ticks that cause Lyme disease. Some wild animals may carry rabies. Enjoy wildlife from a distance.

Pets can also make you sick. Reptiles pose a particular risk. Turtles, snakes and iguanas can transmit Salmonella bacteria to their owners. You can get rabies from an infected dog or toxoplasmosis from handling kitty litter of an infected cat. The chance that your dog or cat will make you sick is small. You can reduce the risk by practicing good hygiene, keeping pet areas clean and keeping your pets' shots up-to-date.