How Do Vaccines Work?
Tiny organisms (like viruses and bacteria) can invade the body and cause infections that can make you ill. When you get an infection, your body produces special disease-fighting substances called antibodies to fight the organism.
In many cases, once your body has created antibodies against an organism, you become immune to the infection it causes. This means you won't get the infection again in the future.
Vaccines usually contain a small amount of the organism that causes an infection. The organisms used in vaccines are weakened or killed so they won't make you sick.
The vaccine causes your body to produce antibodies against the organism. This allows you to become immune to an infection without having the illness first.
There are three main kinds of vaccines:
- Those that contain a live, but weakened organism
- Those that contain a killed (inactivated) organism
- Those that contain toxoids (chemically changed proteins from bacteria)
Vaccines are not just for babies and young children. As you get older, the protection provided by some early childhood vaccines can wear off. You also generally develop risks for more diseases as you approach your teen years. For these reasons, you need to receive recommended vaccinations.
Why Are Vaccines Important?
Vaccines prevent serious, sometimes life-threatening diseases. Immunity from some childhood vaccines can decrease over time, so people need to get another dose of the vaccine during their teen years. Also, as you grow into adolescence, you are at greater risk of catching certain diseases, like meningitis and HPV.
Vaccines Needed for Teens & College Students
CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) currently recommends these 3 vaccines beginning with your 11-12 year-old check up (or as soon as possible if you are older and have not received the vaccines).
- Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap)
- Meningococcal vaccine (MCV4)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine series
The HPV vaccine is also known as the "cervical cancer vaccine." In June 2006, ACIP recommended the HPV vaccine series for females based on research results available at that time. If future research shows that the vaccine is also safe and effective for males, additional recommendations may be made.
Adolescents should get the following vaccinations if they did not receive all recommended doses when younger:
- Hepatitis B series
- Polio series
- Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) series
- Varicella (chickenpox) series - A second catch-up varicella shot is now recommended for children, adolescents, and adults who have previously received one dose.
Teenagers may need additional vaccines either due to their own specific health conditions or exposure in households to other people with age-related or health-related risks. The additional vaccines for which you should be assessed include:
- Influenza-yearly vaccine
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV)
- Hepatitis A
Vaccines Recommended for Teens and College Students
- Tetanus-Diptheria-Pertussis vaccine
- Meningococcal vaccine
- HPV vaccine series
- Hepatitis B vaccine series
- Polio vaccine series
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine series
- Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine series
- Influenza vaccine
- Pneumococcal polysaccharid (PPV) vaccine
- Hepatitis A vaccine series
Recommended Vaccines and the Diseases they Prevent
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Disease: HPV is a common virus. HPV is most common in people in their teens and early 20s. It is the major cause of cervical cancer in women.
Vaccine: HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer and genital warts. This vaccine is recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls but can be given as early as 9 years of age. Ideally girls should get 3 doses of this vaccine before their first sexual contact when they could be exposed to HPV. If you missed getting the vaccine when you were 11 or 12, ask your doctor about getting it now.
Meningococcal Disease (a common cause of meningitis)
Disease: Meningococcal meningitis is a very serious infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. It can cause death. Meningococcal bloodstream infection can cause loss of an arm or leg and even death.
Vaccine: Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) protects against these infections. Pre-teens should receive a single shot of this vaccine during their 11 or 12 year old check-up. If you missed getting the vaccine at your check-up, ask the doctor about getting it now.
Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
Disease: Whooping cough is highly contagious and causes a prolonged cough. If it is transmitted to infants, it may be life-threatening.
Vaccine: Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is an improvement to the Td booster because it adds protection from whooping cough while still maintaining protection from tetanus and diphtheria . Pre-teens should receive a single shot of Tdap at their 11 or 12 year old check-up, if they have not received a tetanus containing vaccine in the past five years.
Make sure you aren't missing any doses of these childhood vaccines:
Disease: Can cause lifelong infection, liver damage, liver failure, cancer and death.
Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
Disease: Historically these are among the most serious vaccine-preventable diseases.
Disease: Highly contagious; it causes flu-like symptoms, but can also cause paralysis and death.
Disease: Highly contagious; it causes rash, itching, fever and tiredness. It can lead to severe skin infections, scars, pneumonia, brain damage, and death.
For clinic times and more immunization information, contact your local health department:
Chesterfield County Health Department: 748-1975
Colonial Heights Health Department: 520-9380
Powhatan Health Department: 598-5680
Richmond City Health Department: 646-3153
Immunization Hotline: 1-800-232-2422