How Vaccines Work and Why They're Essential to Our Health

by North Memorial

Guest Author:
Bianca Hoffman, LPN, Supervisor
North Memorial Clinic - Golden Valley

Illnesses that vaccines prevent can be dangerous, or even deadly.  Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body's natural defense to help it safely develop immunity to disease.  How vaccines work is by injecting a weakened form of the disease germ into the body.  The body then makes antibodies to fight off these invaders.  If the actual disease germs were ever to attack the body, those antibodies would return to destroy them.

Although many of the diseases we vaccinate against are rare in the U.S., they are common around the world and can be brought back to the U.S., putting unvaccinated persons at risk.  Unless the disease is completely eliminated, we need to continue to vaccinate.  

Vaccines, like any medication, can cause side effects.  Most vaccine reactions are mild:  tenderness, swelling, or redness where the vaccine was given; or a mild fever.  Such minor symptoms are normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity.  Although rare, serious side effects, such as an allergic reaction, could occur.  Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have health problems or known allergies to medications or food.

Related Video: Flu Vaccine Considerations
Patrick Loew, PAC, North Memorial Clinic - Silver Lake Clinic

Children need immunizations to protect them from dangerous childhood diseases. There are 16 vaccine preventable diseases that we vaccinate against before 19 years of age.  They include:  Diptheria, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib disease--a major cause of bacterial meningitis), Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus , Influenza, Measles, Meningococcal, Mumps, Pertussis (whooping cough), Pneumococcal (causes bacterial meningitis and blood infections), Polio, Rotavirus, Rubella (german measles), Tetanus (lockjaw), and Varicella (chicken pox).  

Adults need vaccines too!  All adults should get a yearly flu vaccine.  They should also get one dose of a Tdap vaccine, then every 10 years after that , a Td vaccine.  Pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap during every pregnancy, even if they’ve had it before.  The Tdap will help protect against pertussis as well as tetanus and dipftheria.  Shingles vaccine is recommended for those 60 years of age and older.  Pneumococcal should be given to everyone age 65 and older.  Every adult who has never had chickenpox and has never been vaccinated against varicella should get two doses of varicella vaccine.

The flu vaccine does change year to year so it is very important to get a yearly flu vaccine.  Each year scientists try to match the viruses in the vaccine to those most likely to cause flu that year. Flu vaccine will not prevent disease from other viruses, including flu viruses not contained in the vaccine. All people 6 months of age and older should get flu vaccine.  Adults and older children need one dose of influenza vaccine each year. But some children younger than 9 years of age need two doses to be protected.

There are two types of influenza vaccine:

  1. Inactivated (killed) vaccine, the "flu shot," is given by injection with a needle.
  2. Live, attenuated (weakened) influenza vaccine is sprayed into the nostrils.  Can be given to healthy people ages 2 through 49, who are not pregnant and do not have certain health conditions.  

It takes up to two weeks for protection to develop after the shot and the protection lasts about a year.  It is important to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available as the "flu season" may occur at anytime but typically starts in October and can last through May.  Influenza vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.

All North Memorial Clinic locations offer immunizations.  For a list of locations, visit Appointments can be requested online or scheduled at 763-581-CARE.

For more information on vaccinations, visit:

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