Immunization comes from the word immunity, meaning you are protected from a certain disease, and is achieved by receiving your vaccines. A vaccine is a medicine which helps teach and prepare the body to fight off a certain disease. Vaccination and immunization can be used interchangeably, as they share the same goal: protecting you and the community from diseases.
The immunization process begins when we are babies: in fact, all babies born in Washington receive their first Hepatitis B vaccine before they even leave the hospital. After that, there are recommended vaccination schedules based on age. Childhood vaccines are broken up from birth to six years and seven to 18 years. While there are options on whether to immunize or not, if the child attends public school, there are required vaccines they must have before they enroll. This is to protect the safety of all the students, faculty, and staff at the schools.
Adult vaccination recommendations begin at 19. There are certain times where additional vaccines are recommended, such as pregnancy or being immunocompromised. When traveling to certain parts of the world, additional vaccines may be needed as well to protect you from specific, regional diseases. Those who have a primary care provider will be able to discuss the schedule and make sure they are protected in the way best for their health.
Vaccines and immunization are again hot topics in many circles. Are they safe? Why do we need them? If the disease is gone, can we stop? All parents want to keep their children safe and healthy, just as we all want to keep our loved ones safe and healthy. Vaccines are one of the easiest ways we can achieve this goal.
Vaccines go through a rigorous testing process to make sure they are safe before they are released to the general public. The pandemic was a unique period in time where emergency measures were taken to help prevent the massive death toll that could have happened. However, even these vaccines used methods previously tested and deemed safe when they were developed, in addition to having to go through the same trials as standard vaccines, but on a shortened timeline.
The majority of the vaccines on the standard vaccine schedule and the required school vaccines have been used for decades and are completely safe. Immunization begins at birth, as babies and the elderly are the two populations most at-risk for severe illnesses that can result in death.
Diseases like polio and diphtheria used to have a high mortality rate, but thanks to vaccines, they are rare in the US. The flu of 1918 had an estimated mortality rate of over 50 million people, but now flu deaths are less than 35,000, thanks in part to vaccines. Vaccines work by not only reducing the number of people who will catch a disease but also by reducing the number of people who will die from complications.
While we may say a disease is gone, it only stays gone because we vaccinate. If there are no people who can support the virus, there is no where for it to go. When we don’t vaccinate, the number of available hosts increases, and viruses can come back. This happened in 2019 with the measles, which was declared eliminated in the US in 2000. The vaccinations declined and there was an outbreak where over 1,200 people caught measles that year.
It takes about two weeks for full protection against a disease to develop, with protection lasting anywhere from a few months to a lifetime. The length of protection a vaccine provides is determined in part by the disease and in part by the vaccine type. Some vaccines use complete dead virus cells to train our bodies how to fight them, and some use inactive, but still alive cells. Both are effective but change the level of protection provided. Some diseases, such as the flu, change every year and so the vaccine is made for the specific flu virus we expect to see that year. This is why sometimes we get a flu shot but still get the flu. Even when that happens though, the severity of the flu is much lower than it would be without a flu shot at all.
The vaccination schedule is updated every year, as the CDC and other agencies monitor diseases and adjust to make sure we are all safe. The 2024 schedule was just released and can be viewed below as well as on the Immunization Schedule page of the CDC website.
They also put together an easier to read version of these schedules, which we expect to have soon. The 2023 version of these schedules are below.
- 2023 Vaccine Schedule for Birth to 6 years
- 2023 Vaccine Schedule for 7 to 18 years
- 2024 Adult Vaccine Schedule
In addition to the CDC national vaccine schedules, the WA DOH provides school and child care immunization requirements that govern these organizations within our state. The most recent requirements are below.
Certain vaccines are required before a child can attend school or enroll in a childcare program. This is to protect everyone from diseases deemed dangerous. In order to document these vaccines, parents are required to show a certificate of immunization status. This form can be completed by a provider, or by the family when they attach the medical records showing the vaccine was given.
If you need a copy of your vaccine records, there are several options.
MyIRMobile is a website and app that allows you to access your vaccination records, including COVID vaccines. The information can be viewed, downloaded, and printed; however, these records may or may not be able to be used for school documentation. Check with your school to see if these are eligible as records.
Your local provider can provide vaccination records as well. If you’ve gotten vaccines at a pharmacy, they can provide those records, but may or may not be able to provide complete vaccination records.