What Vaccines Do You Need?
In school you don’t usually learn much about vaccines. Yet they play a very important part in protecting us against diseases that can cause serious illness and even death. When you were younger you might remember going to your doctor's office or health clinic to receive a vaccine or “shot”. You might remember being a little afraid of the needle. At the time, you probably didn’t know you were being protected from dangerous diseases.
You might be wondering if you need to get vaccines now that you’re older. The answer is yes. Vaccines aren’t just for babies and young children. Older children, teens and adults need vaccines too. This is because as you get older you are at risk of getting different diseases that can be prevented with vaccines. Also, protection from some of the vaccines that you got when you were younger can wear off with time. When this happens more shots, called “boosters”, are needed to stay protected.
For example, immunity from the pertussis vaccines goes away after 5-10 years of getting vaccinated. You then need to get a booster shot!
Vaccines are given for free right in your school. When public health nurses come to schools to give vaccines, whole grades of students line-up to get their “shots”. But often the students don’t learn much about the vaccines they are given. In this lesson we will take a look at the different vaccines you will be given in school and the diseases they protect against.
Vaccines you need
The following vaccines are given to students during school time. These vaccines are given in different grades in different parts of Canada.
Hepatitis B vaccine
This vaccine protects against the hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B virus can cause liver damage and liver cancer. If you received this vaccine when you were younger it will not be given to you again at this time.
This vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can cause cancers, like cervical cancer in females and a number of other cancers in both females and males. It can also cause genital warts.
Meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine
This vaccine protects against meningococcal bacteria. Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. This vaccine also protects against infections of the blood or septicemia. These infections can be very serious and even deadly.
Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine
This vaccine protects against three serious diseases:
- Tetanus which can cause painful tightening of muscles all over the body that can lead to broken bones, breathing problems and death.
- Diphtheria which can cause difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis and death.
- Pertussis or whooping cough which can cause violent coughing fits that can make it hard to breathe. It can affect people of all ages but can be very serious and even deadly for young babies.
You might also need other vaccines if you missed getting some when you were younger or if you plan to travel outside of Canada. Talk to your doctor or nurse to find out if you have all the vaccines you need.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor or nurse about getting the influenza vaccine also known as the flu shot. This vaccine is needed every year.
Are these vaccines safe?
Vaccines are very safe. They are among the safest medical products available. Vaccines are very well tested. It can take up to 10 years or longer for a vaccine to be developed, tested, and finally approved for use by Health Canada. It can take this long to gather all the scientific information necessary to make sure that a vaccine is safe and works well.
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. But vaccine side effects are usually minor, like soreness, redness, or swelling where the vaccine was given, or a mild fever. These side effects usually go away after a day or two. Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare. Many people who get vaccines don’t have any side effects at all.
You might remember getting more than one vaccine at once. Doctors and nurses sometimes do this because scientists have proven that taking several vaccines at once (or within a short time period) does not increase the chances of side effects. Spacing out vaccines will not reduce side effects. Taking a bunch at once, or taking only one vaccine, they are still just as safe.
Some people are worried because they think that vaccines contain animal or human cells. This is false. Vaccines do not contain human or animal cells as an ingredient.
Anxious about getting vaccines?
If you’re afraid of shots, you’re not alone. It’s completely normal to feel anxious. The good news is, there are things you can do to make this easier for you. For example, you can distract yourself by listening to music, reading, or watching a video on your phone. Research shows that distracting yourself can help make shots less painful. Talk to your doctor or school nurse to find out more tips.
Since vaccines provide protection, you can think of them as body armour. So while you receive your vaccine imagine your body becoming protected from the diseases. The shot might hurt for a second or two, but it's worth it for the protection against these diseases. And as you’ve learned, when you get vaccinated, you’re not just protecting yourself. You’re protecting your friends, family and others in your community too!