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What You Need to Know About Immunizations

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By: Neil Lesitsky, MD, Family Practice
August 10, 2012

Did you know that August is National Immunization Awareness Month?  With a new school year right around the corner and flu season approaching fast, now is the perfect time to think about the immunizations that are most appropriate for you and your loved ones of all ages.

Why immunization is important

There are many ways our bodies fight disease.  One of the most important ways is triggered when the body is exposed to a virus.  That’s when your immune system creates a defense strategy and a ‘memory’ – or immunity – that can be used to fight off the disease in the future.

Vaccination allows the body to create that memory without actually acquiring the disease.  A vaccine injects dead cells or modified live cells from the virus into the body.  Your immune system reacts by building an immunity to fight the disease.  This reaction is stored in the immune system’s memory, and if or when the disease actually strikes, your body is better equipped to fight it.

With vaccinations, as with any health procedure, remember that your physician knows your health history best and can make the most appropriate recommendation about what immunizations are right for you.

The flu vaccine

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a number of immunizations that are recommended for individuals of various age groups.  First and foremost, everyone over age 6-months is recommended to receive an annual flu vaccine, especially the young, the elderly and those with chronic health issues or compromised immune systems.

And to dispel a myth about flu vaccines: people do not contract the flu as a result of receiving the vaccine.  Anyone who might become sick a few days after receiving a flu vaccine most likely acquired the flu before they received the vaccine or acquired a different virus, since the vaccine is usually given during cold and flu season.  It is far better to receive the vaccine than to acquire and spread the flu.

Other important vaccines

For years, many childhood diseases like mumps, measles and chickenpox were considered rights of passage.  Most children who acquired these diseases recovered completely, but there are many examples where the disease caused serious lifelong disabilities and even death.  Vaccinations that prevent these diseases, as well as hepatitis A and B, polio, rotavirus and pneumococcus, are suggested for children from birth up to school age according to your physician’s recommendations.

Parents of teenagers and young adults should ask their physician about booster shots for the immunizations their children received as youngsters, as well as a meningitis shot and the annual flu vaccine.  And adolescent girls should be considered to receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer.

Finally, seniors should consider receiving vaccines for pneumonia, tetanus and shingles along with the flu vaccine.  Those who are parents or grandparents, or who have regular contact with children, should also receive booster shots for some childhood diseases such as whooping cough.  And anyone planning to travel to a foreign country should ask their physician about what vaccines may be appropriate prior to their trip.

Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania joins with the rest of the healthcare community in encouraging individuals to receive the immunizations that will help keep them – and our entire community – healthy.

For more information about immunizations and vaccines, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/.

Dr. Neil Lesitsky is a board certified family practice physician with more than 20 years of experience, and is an Associate Medical Director for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

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