When you are exposed to a disease, your immune system tries to fight it off. Depending on the strength of your immune response, you may or may not get sick. Vaccines work to increase the strength of your immune system against future attacks by a particular disease.
Vaccination provides long-term, sometimes lifelong protection, or individual immunity, against a disease. The vaccines recommended in the early childhood immunization schedule protect children from measles, chicken pox, pneumococcal disease, and other illnesses. As children grow older, additional vaccines protect them from diseases that affect adolescents and adults, as well as from travel-related disease exposure.
Another benefit of vaccination is herd immunity, also known as community immunity. Herd immunity refers to the protection offered to everyone in a community by high vaccination rates. With enough people immunized against a specific disease, it’s difficult for the disease to persist within the community. This offers some protection to those who may be unable to receive vaccinations—including newborns and individuals with chronic illnesses—by reducing the likelihood of an outbreak that could expose them to the disease. It also protects vaccinated individuals who may not have been fully immunized against a disease, as no vaccine is 100% effective.
Over time, vaccination has worked to reduce or eliminate diseases that have killed or disabled people just a few generations ago (such as smallpox). By continuing to vaccinate responsibly, we not only improve our own health and that of our communities, but potentially contribute to the eradication of the disease itself.
Learn more about age-specific vaccines and talk with your doctor to make sure you get the vaccines that are right for you.