Immunizations & Vaccines
Immunization programs (vaccinations) have greatly reduced and even eliminated the threat of serious diseases that can cause severe complications, disability and death for Canadians at home and abroad.
- What is immunization?
- What are the benefits of immunization?
- Are vaccines safe?
- Are there any reasons why someone should not be vaccinated?
- Will I need a vaccination before I travel?
What is immunization?
The process of immunization (vaccinations) was developed to prevent, control, eliminate or destroy diseases that may be preventable by using vaccines to boost the body’s immunity to the diseases.
A vaccine generally contains a small amount of the disease that is weak or dead but may contain none of the disease. Vaccines help your body’s immune system develop antibodies to destroy the disease germs that could make you ill. Those antibodies may last the rest of your life, or you may need a booster shot in later years.
Your body will also make antibodies if you develop the disease, but vaccinations can keep you from experiencing the lifelong disabilities and even death the disease could cause.
What are the benefits of immunization?
Immunization has been credited with saving more Canadian lives than any other health intervention throughout the past 50 years. Prior to the use of vaccines many children suffered severe illnesses that caused symptoms such as paralysis, and died from diseases that are now preventable with immunization.
Vaccinations help infants and young children battle preventable diseases until their immune systems become strong enough to fight infections. Vaccinations for older children and adults boost immunity as the effects of a vaccine decline, or help build greater immunity to different diseases that are more common in later years. Vaccines also help prevent the spread of disease to those who cannot be vaccinated or who do not respond fully to the vaccine.
For example, the seasonal influenza vaccination (flu shot) is designed to protect people from developing the flu or passing it along to others, especially to those who could develop severe complications and possibly die if they contracted certain flu strains.
Regular annual vaccinations for Canadian children include shots for diphtheria, which can cause serious breathing problems and paralysis, and for measles, which can cause pneumonia, deafness, brain damage and death.
Are vaccines safe?
Many people, especially parents, have questions about the safety of vaccines. As with any medical procedure, they involve risk. Vaccines can cause reactions with varying degrees of severity and for various reasons depending upon the person.
Vaccines in Canada have been shown to be effective and much safer than the diseases they prevent, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. A vaccine undergoes approximately 10 years of research and development on average before it is considered for approval in Canada and its safety is monitored once it is in use.
Vaccines for smallpox, polio and other infectious diseases have destroyed or greatly reduced the incidences of these diseases in countries with these immunization programs.
If you have concerns about vaccinations for your child or for yourself, talk with your pharmacist or medical doctor to more fully understand the benefits and risks of vaccinations.
Are there any reasons why someone should not be vaccinated?
Always check with your pharmacist or doctor before receiving a vaccine to determine whether there are precautions you need to take or contraindications that mean you should not have the vaccine.
Possible precautions and contraindications relate to conditions that include:
- An anaphylaxis reaction to a prior dose of the vaccine (a fast allergic reaction that can lead to death)
- An allergy to eggs
- A moderate to severe acute illness
- A weakened immune system
Keep a vaccination record for yourself and each member of your family and bring it with you so your health care professional can review and update it.
Will I need a vaccination before I travel?
When travelling, you may need a booster shot or additional vaccination for yourself and/or your child.
In Canada, the embassy or consulate for the country in which you’ll be travelling can provide you with the most current information about travel vaccinations for that country.
It’s important to check with your health care provider or travel health clinic at least six weeks before your trip to review your immunization history and requirements for your destination.
Always keep your family’s immunization records current and carry copies when you travel.
Talk with one of our pharmacists or your medical professional for more information.