Did you know that there are immunizations that are required at every stage in life? These quick, although sometimes not painless, shots help prevent diseases that can be life-threatening or simply inconvenient and a public health issue. Are you up to date on your vaccines? We’ll get you started with some info for National Immunization Awareness Month.
Don’t you mean vaccination?
Terminology can be tricky—I had to Google this answer, too. A vaccination or vaccine is something given to you, usually as an injection by a needle, by a medical professional, to prevent a disease. After the vaccination is given, the body’s immune system fights off the virus that has been introduced to it—in a very small amount—and develops immunity to that virus. The amount given is not enough to get you sick or cause symptoms, but enough for your body to learn how to attack it. This process, what happens in your body following vaccination, is known as immunization, in which your body develops immunity to the bacteria, or, you are immune to it, meaning, the next time you encounter it, you will not get sick (or, in some cases, you will not get as sick as you might otherwise) . So, while sometimes they are used interchangeably, they are not the same thing: you get a vaccination to trigger immunization!
Immunization throughout the lifespan.
Wondering if your own vaccines are up to date? Or your child’s? Here’s how to start figuring it out.
Children: This handy calculator from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention can help you figure out, based on your child’s birth date (under age 6), when they should receive vaccines. (I was going to summarize it for you, but let’s be honest, kids get lots of shots, we might be here all day!). These vaccines include—to name a few—the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, chicken pox vaccine, TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine (at birth), and more.
Older children and adolescents should receive boosters and other vaccines around age 11-12, including a TDaP vaccine, a meningitis vaccine, and 2 HPV (human pappilomavirus vaccines), followed by a second meningitis vaccine for adolescents at 16, and for some, an additional meningitis vaccine at age 16-18 as recommended by the child’s doctor. 
As well, children over 6 months should receive flu vaccine each year.
Needle-phobic kids? Strategies like blowing bubbles or holding someone’s hand can help distract kids from the presumed pain of a needle—the fear may be much worse than the actual needle! If it is actually the pain that is causing them problems, numbing cream, like EMLA, applied before a shot can help, recommends the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. 
Adults: Adults may need to receive catch up vaccines for those missed in childhood—their health care provider can advise them of this process. Vaccines including the HPV vaccine, meningitis vaccines (in early adulthood) may also be given. Certain populations may also receive vaccines including pneumonia vaccine, shingles vaccine (the former typically in older adulthood), travel immunizations, and boosters of tetanus vaccines every 10 years (or if warranted by injury). 
Determining if you are up to date
Your doctor, hospital, or public health authority likely has an immunization record for you to help determine if you are up to date on your vaccinations. Being immunized against diseases such as the ones above is important for both your own health and that of those around you. In my hometown, a mumps outbreak in local high schools and universities attracted a lot of media attention last year—the bottom line? Many diseases are both preventable and highly contagious if vaccines aren’t completed or up to date.
If you have chronic disease, you may be at higher risk of developing complications from several illnesses mentioned above. Flu vaccine annually is incredibly important for anyone with lung disease, as well as for those with diabetes and heart disease, or those who are on chemotherapy that wreaks havoc on the immune system. Keep yourself safe and get vaccinated! As well, if you have one of these conditions that may increase your risk of complications from viral or bacterial infections, wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace and be prepared!