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August is National Immunization Awareness Month!
- August has been designated as a National Immunization Awareness Month to focus on immunizations and a time to intently note the importance of immunizations for people of varying ages.
- It is important for both healthcare professionals and the general public alike to educate about the impact immunizations can have on individuals.
- There can be many misconceptions and confusion surrounding immunizations, which is what National Immunization Awareness Month aims to prevent.
MSN, RN – Chief Nursing Officer
National Immunization Awareness Month
Many individuals understand the concept of immunizations and their availability, but there are many others who are not fully aware of their importance and the impact they can have on both children and adults.
August has been designated as a National Immunization Awareness Month to focus on immunizations and a time to intently note the importance of immunizations for people of varying ages.
It is important for both healthcare professionals and the general public alike to educate about the impact immunizations can have on individuals. The following concepts are imperative to consider when thinking about National Immunization Awareness Month and the importance of immunizations:
- What are immunizations?
- How do immunizations work – what is the mechanism?
- What is the difference between childhood and adult immunizations?
Immunizations serve to protect individuals from dangerous and preventable diseases such as flu, chickenpox, hepatitis, measles, mumps, meningococcal, pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, influenza, and others.
Immunizations protect the individuals receiving them and assist individuals with building up immunity to specific diseases. While many misunderstand the mechanism of immunizations, it is important to stress that immunizations assist with decreasing symptoms if exposed to the specific disease, but it does not indicate that individuals will not get the disease.
For example, if an individual receives a yearly influenza immunization, it does not indicate that he/she will not get influenza, but it does portray that the immunization will assist with lessening the symptoms of influenza for the individual. There can be many misconceptions and confusion surrounding the ideas pertaining to immunizations.
Mechanisms of Immunizations
Each day, every individual comes into contact with germs, including bacteria and viruses. A healthy immune system helps individuals to not get sick from these germs. The immune response involves the way one’s body defends itself by recognizing harmful bacteria, viruses, and other diseases, which are known as antigens.
When an antigen enters one’s body, an individual’s immune response first produces what is called mucus which attempts to flush out the virus or bacteria in an effort to stop if from entering the body.
At this point, one’s immune system attempts to send white blood cells to surround the virus or bacteria to prevent more harm. After this process, special proteins are produced which are called antibodies. Antibodies work by attaching to the virus or bacteria and attempt to destroy the pathogen.
Immunizations work with one’s natural defenses by helping him/her to safely develop protection or resistance from certain diseases. There are some immunizations that require more than one dose in order to provide the best protection.
Immunizations typically use dead or severely weakened viruses to trick one’s body into thinking that the individual already has the virus, bacteria, or disease. Once an immunization is administered, one’s immune system responds to the weakened “invaders” by creating antibodies to protect the individual against future infection.
The immune system has special “memory cells” that remember and recognize the specific virus, bacteria, or disease the next time one is exposed. The immunizations assist in strengthening one’s immune system by training it to recognize and fight against specific germs.
When exposed to the virus, bacteria, or disease in the future, one’s immune system rapidly produces antibodies to attack and destroy it. In many cases, the individual may still get a less serious form of the illness, but he/she is protected from the most severe and dangerous effects.
Differences Between Childhood and Adult Immunizations
From birth to 15 months, there are many immunizations that require multiple doses to protect against various diseases such as Hepatitis B and others.
The following is a recommended schedule for infants up to 15 months:
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
- Influenza Type B
- Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
- Inactivated poliovirus
- Measles, mumps, and rubella
- Pneumococcal conjugate
The following is a recommended schedule for children ages 18 months to 18 years of age:
- Diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus
- Measles, mumps, and rubella
- Human papillomavirus, or HPV
Adult immunizations that are recommended for those ages 19 and older include the following:
- One dose of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (or Tdap)
- Booster immunization for tetanus and diphtheria, or Td, every 10 years
- Pregnant women – Tdap immunization in third trimester
- Shingles immunization for older adults 50 and over
- Influenza immunization annually
- Hepatitis B
- Pneumococcal immunization ages 65 years and over who are at high risk for developing pneumonia
As with any medication, immunizations can cause side effects and must be monitored closely as each individual is different in his/her response to immunizations.
Typically, the side effects are mild such as a low-grade fever or pain and redness at the injection site and subside within a few days. However, it is imperative for more serious side effects to be monitored diligently in case immediate medical care is needed.
The Bottom Line on National Immunization Awareness Month
Being National Immunization Awareness Month, we as healthcare providers must do our best to provide, promote, and support education surrounding immunizations.
While immunizations can be extremely helpful with viruses, bacteria, and certain diseases, it is equally important to remember that not everyone chooses immunizations based on a past negative experience, religious or cultural beliefs, or other medical conditions. All of these factors must be considered when deciding on immunizations for both children and adults and accurate and detailed information is a must.
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