With summer vacations coming to a close and preparations for back-to-school underway, it is important to safeguard your family’s health by having their immunizations up-to-date.

August marks Immunization Awareness Month, with various themes focused on preventing diseases through a person’s lifetime. From pregnancy to babies, young children to teens and adults to seniors, vaccines play a vital role.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines help the body develop immunity by imitating infections. The imitations almost never causes an illness, but they can cause mild symptoms such as a fever.

Once the imitating infection has passed, the body is able to recognize how to fight the disease in the future and the person is said to be immunized.

What are the different types of vaccines?

Vaccines vary across the world because they are dependent on the strains specific to the regions where they are administered. Some vaccines are one-and-done, while others require more than one dose.

For example, the vaccine against meningitis requires a second dose to strengthen protection when young adults are most vulnerable to exposure. In other instances, immunity may begin to lose effectiveness over time and a “booster” is needed to increase the immunity once more.

Vaccines that require boosters include the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) for younger children and Tdap for teens and adults. Some vaccines are even need yearly, such as the flu vaccine, because the virus varies from season to season and immunity wears off fairly quickly.

Planning ahead

Planning ahead is important if you will be traveling abroad, as diseases rarely seen in the United States may be common in other countries.

It is important to talk to your physician before embarking on international travel and to ask them about any vaccines you may need both before leaving and after returning.

Future moms-to-be can protect themselves and their babies from serious diseases, such as whooping cough and flu, by getting vaccinated during pregnancy. By doing so, their bodies produce protective antibodies that are then passed on to baby before birth.

Once the baby is born, vaccines are recommended to protect against serious and sometimes deadly diseases.

Depending on their age, health and development, babies are vaccinated at specific stages for chickenpox (varicella), mumps, polio, diphtheria, flu (influenza), hepatitis A and B, pneumococcal, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), measles, and whooping cough (pertussis).

What vaccines to get and when

As children grow, some of their immunizations begin to lose effectiveness, so they get four vaccinations: Tdap booster, meningococcal, human papilloma virus (HPV) and flu.

It is important to talk to your child’s pediatrician to make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccines and to ask any questions you may have about them. If you don’t know or have misplaced your child’s immunization record, these can be requested through the Texas Immunization Registry.

Note that after age 26, records are deleted. Forms can be found at: www.dshs.texas.gov/immunize/immtrac/clients.shtm.

As we get older, “immunizations begin to wear off over time ... and adults may be at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases due to age, lifestyle, travel or health conditions,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states.

Recommendations for adults include an annual flu vaccine, a Tdap vaccine if it was not received as an adolescent and Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster every 10 years. For adults 19 to 26 years of age, the HPV vaccine is also recommended.

For adults age 50 and older, the risk of certain diseases increases as the immune system begins to weaken. The CDC recommends that in addition to the annual flu vaccine, adults age 50 and older get the Td/Tdap vaccine and shingles vaccine.

Those 65 years and older should also get the pneumococcal vaccine. It is vital to talk to your physician regarding additional vaccine needs for certain health conditions.

Still unsure which vaccines you need? Use the CDC’s Adult Vaccine Assessment Tool to determine which vaccines are recommended for your age, health conditions, employment and other factors at: www2.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched/.

What do do if someone is not vaccinated

If a child or an adult is not immunized, it is important to become aware of signs and symptoms of vaccine-preventable diseases that may be in your community and seek immediate help if early signs develop.

Inform your doctor(s), ambulance personnel and/or emergency room staff that your child or family member has not been fully vaccinated so correct treatment is provided and medical staff can take precautions for the vaccine-preventable disease to not spread to others.Talk to your primary care physician about what you can do to reduce risks by having up-to-date immunizations. Visit the Harrison County Health Department.

Louisareal McDonald is the county agent for family and community health in Harrison County.