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The Importance of Immunizations

Nurse giving a patient a flu vaccination.

Immunizations are major public health interventions that help prevent the general population from diseases and infections. They serve two purposes—the first is to protect the individual who gets the vaccination, and the second is to limit the spread of infection. If a sufficiently high percentage of the population is vaccinated, the actual spread of viruses and bacteria can be interrupted.

Infants/Children

Peter Wright, MD, Infectious Disease and International Health Specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), and Professor of Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Understanding why vaccines work and how to administer them optimally has been a focal point of my research. For all vaccines, a primary consideration has always been safety. Vaccines that have reached approval for general use are all ones with an extraordinary record of safety.

There is an extensive list of immunizations that infants and children should receive; with many vaccines now combined with multiple components in them.

For infants under the age of two, there are a series of vaccines they should receive to protect them against the following diseases:

  • Pertussis
  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus
  • Chickenpox
  • Hemophilus influenzae
  • Pneumococcus
  • Influenza – on an annual basis throughout childhood
  • Hepatitis A and B

As children approach school age, their vaccines include boosters to many of the infant vaccines, and at age 11, they should receive meningococcal and human papilloma virus (HPV). The meningococcal vaccine prevents a life endangering form of sepsis and meningitis. The HPV vaccination goes a long way in preventing cervical cancer in females and penile or rectal cancer in males.

The development of new and improved vaccines remains a dynamic field. There are a number of things that go along with vaccinations in preventing disease, including the use of masks, handwashing and quarantine when someone is sick. However, vaccines remain our most effective tool in preventing disease and are a shared responsibility. We need high levels of immunity to prevent the emergence or reintroduction of disease. Prevention measures complement our ability to treat sick children. On a global basis, immunizations are the only effective tools we have to prevent disease. It is one we do well with in northern New England—vaccination rates in New Hampshire and Vermont are among the highest in the country. Our physicians do a good job explaining the benefits of immunizations and talking to individual patients about the importance of vaccinations in preventing disease.

Adults

Antonia Altomare, DO, MPH, Hospital Epidemiologist, Infectious Disease and International Health, Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

We have come a long way with infection prevention, and vaccinations have been a major factor. Some diseases are rare like rubella and polio, and the reason we do not see them is because vaccines were introduced.

For adults, vaccines and preventive care can sometimes be forgotten or not a priority among other health concerns. Routine physical appointments are a great time to bring up the question about vaccines. Ask your physician if you are due for any vaccines. If you are getting your flu shot from your doctor, it is a great time to ask him or her, “Is there anything else I need?”

Adults should vaccinate themselves against the following:

  • Influenza (seasonal)
  • Pneumococcal
  • Shingles
  • Tetanus
  • Pertussis

While some vaccines are good for multiple years like the tetanus, pertussis and pneumococcal vaccines, every adult should get the flu vaccine annually because the strains of flu that circulate every year change. Each season, there is a slight modification to what is in the vaccine, so it is recommended to get one every season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 35.6 million people develop influenza yearly in the United States, causing 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually. If people have underlying health issues or medical problems, they are at a much higher risk for major consequences if they contract the flu. The vaccine does not prevent someone from getting the flu, but it makes it less severe and shorter in duration.

To learn more about what immunizations are recommended at different ages, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/index.html). Except for the flu vaccine, you can get the rest of the vaccines at any time of year.

There have always been a lot of misconceptions about vaccines and their side effects, but they are very safe and effective. To be as healthy as possible, I highly recommend that everyone check with their primary care physician to make sure they are up to date on their immunizations.


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