Vaccines are responsible for the control of many infectious diseases that were once common. However, the viruses and bacteria that can lead to vaccine-preventable diseases still exist and can be passed on to people who are not protected by a vaccine.
The vaccines offered and authorized by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Immunization Advisory Committee, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are:
Diphtheria is a serious respiratory disease caused by poison that is produced from bacterial growth. The initial symptoms tend to be a gradually worsening sore throat accompanied by a low-grade fever. If not treated, diphtheria could lead to airway obstruction, coma or possibly death. Although diphtheria is rare in the U.S., it is still a threat in other countries and can easily be spread through coughing and sneezing. When used properly, the vaccine is 85% effective.
The Gardasil vaccine protects against the four most common types of human papilloma virus (HPV): types 6, 11, 16 and 18. Types 6 and 11 are considered low risk and cause 90% of genital warts, whereas types 16 and 18 are considered high risk and cause 70% of cervical cancers. Gardasil is a series of three injections given over a 6-month period of time. The second injection should occur two months after the first, and the third injection should occur four months after the second.
Haemophilus Influenza is a disease caused by bacteria that usually affects children under the age of five. Many people can be carriers of the Hib virus without even knowing it, and the virus typically spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. The Hib virus could lead to Hib meningitis, which is the cause of death for one in every 20 children, and causes permanent and severe brain damage in up to 30% of survivors. The Hib vaccine works to prevent meningitis, pneumonia, epiglottitis, and other infections caused by the Haemophilus influenzae type b.
Anywhere between 125,000 to 250,000 people in the US become infected with Hepatitis A, a liver disease that can affect all ages. It is transmitted through exposure to infected water and food, international travelers or sexual contact with an infected person. Symptoms are not common, making it difficult to be aware of the Hepatitis A disease. Those with symptoms will experience yellowing in the skin and eyes, fatigue, stomach pains, lack of appetite or nausea. A person can prevent Hepatitis A by receiving the two shots given at least 6 months apart for full effectiveness.
Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver and can cause infections, liver scarring, liver cancer, liver failure, and in extreme cases even death. The noticeable symptoms include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements and joint pain. It is typically spread through blood, semen or other bodily fluids entering the body of a person who is not infected. A person can prevent the spread of Hepatitis B by getting the appropriate vaccine that is given as a three-shot series over six months.
Individuals who are less than 65 years of age and have received the recommended vaccinations are 70%-90% less likely to come down with a clinical illness. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Getting yearly flu shots starting at just six months of age is encouraged because it protects against the three most common influenza viruses. Effectiveness of the vaccine is not 100%, and some people can still get the flu, depending on your lifestyle and age. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective. Sometimes people are exposed to the flu virus before the end of those two weeks or they are exposed to another flu virus that was not included in the vaccine. The elderly are more susceptible to getting infected because of their lessened immunity. 1
This respiratory disease is caused by a virus that grows in the cells that line the throat and lungs. The warning signs of measles are fever, runny nose, cough and an onset of rashes. The measles virus is far less common in the United States than it used to be, but it is still a problem around the world, killing an average of 200,000 people each year. Measles is very transmissible through breathing, coughing and sneezing. Children are especially vulnerable to contracting the virus, so it is important to get the measles vaccine at a young age.
Mumps tend to be a mild viral disease. Rare conditions can occur that include swelling of the brain, nerves, and spinal cord, which lead to serious side effects such as paralysis, seizures, and fluid in the brain. The Mumps vaccine is most effective if given to children between 12-15 months and then again when they are 4-6 years old. Although the vaccine is very effective in preventing most cases of mumps, it may not cover all types.
Pertussis, also known as the whooping cough, often starts out similar to a common cold that will lead to severe coughing fits that can last for weeks. The pertussis virus is especially dangerous for infants because the signs are not as pronounced. Many infants do not even have the coughing symptoms that adults may have, but instead develop apnea, which is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. It is very important for adults to receive the Tdap vaccine and for infants and children to obtain a Tdap vaccination because more than half of infants have to be hospitalized because of pertussis complications. This virus is highly contagious and is easily spread through coughing and sneezing.
Pneumococcus is a bacterium that causes pneumococcal pneumonia, bacteremia, meningitis and otitis media. This disease can potentially be fatal or cause long-term problems such as brain damage, hearing loss or problems with limbs that result in amputation. The pneumoccus bacterium thrives in people’s noses and throats, making it easily transmissible through coughing, sneezing, or contact with respiratory secretions. The vaccine is recommended for all people to prevent severe disease, hospitalization, or in some cases, death.
Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. It is most frequently spread by person to person contact and has only been found to affect humans. This disease is a difficult one to catch because only about 5% of people infected with Polio have symptoms, and less than 1% have extreme symptoms like paralysis of limbs. Typically, only infants and children need to be vaccinated, because an adult it is expected to already be vaccinated. Two types of vaccinations, the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV), have been created to prevent polio, although only IPV has been used in the United States as of 2000.
Rotavirus is a disease that can cause inflammation in the stomach and intestines, which can lead to dehydration in infants and young children. It has been linked to over 500,000 deaths worldwide in children under five years old. The virus is spread easily between young children through contaminated hands, toys, surfaces, food and water. Currently, there is no antiviral drug to treat the rotavirus disease. The vaccine is given to infants in the first year of life.
Rubella is a viral disease that causes fever and rash for the first few days of infection. Although this is an acute disease, if a pregnant woman gets the Rubella virus it can cause serious birth defects such as deafness, cataracts, heart defects, mental retardation and liver or spleen damage. The virus is transmitted through coughing and sneezing, so it is recommended that children receive the two-dose Rubella Vaccine at 12-15 months and again at 4-6 years old.
Tetanus is a severe and often fatal disease. The bacteria that causes tetanus is widely distributed in soil and street dust, but can also be found in the waste of many animals. The tetanus bacterium is very resistant to heat and germ-killing cleaners, making it difficult to prevent the bacteria from developing. Those who get tetanus suffer from stiffness and spasm of the muscles. The larynx (throat) can close causing breathing and eating difficulties, and other muscle spasms can cause fractures (breaks) of the spine and long bones. Tetanus is infectious, but not contagious, so unlike other vaccine-preventable diseases it cannot be spread from contact with infected persons. Because the tetanus bacterium is widespread in the environment, the disease can only be prevented by immunization. When used properly, the vaccine is nearly 100% effective in preventing the tetanus virus. Children are given five shots over a period of time. Adults should receive the vaccine every ten years.
Chicken pox is usually mild, but can be severe in some cases; adults who have chicken pox have a more difficult recovery from the virus than children. Some people who inherit chicken pox have also suffered from complications, which can include secondary bacterial infections, loss of fluids (dehydration), pneumonia, and central nervous system involvement. In addition, only those who have had chicken pox in the past can get shingles, a painful inflammation of the nerves. Children and adults receive a two shot series. Timing between shots differs for children and adults.
Vaccines are available to prevent a number of illnesses that contribute to morbidity and mortality in adults in the United States. Adult immunizations are administrated in a primary series (for unimmunized persons), booster doses, and periodic doses. However, adult vaccination is underutilized. The reasons for underutilization are outlined in the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) report. It indicates that lack of knowledge about adult vaccination is the most important problem that we need to solve, but adults may need these important immunizations to keep them from getting certain diseases. Many adults need to be immunized because of medical problems such as diabetes, suppressed immune systems, etc.
Side effects can occur with vaccination, depending on the vaccine: low grade fever, rash or soreness at the site of injection can be expected. Slight discomfort is normal and should not be a cause for alarm, but it is important to discuss any worries with your health care provider in order to obtain additional information.
You can call the National Immunization Information Hotline for further immunization information.
(800) 232-2522 (English)
(800) 232-0233 (Spanish)
Disclaimer: The provider of this page is not a medical professional and can make no judgment about the applicability of this information to any specific person or condition. For medical advice, please consult your doctor or local public health service.