Immunizing against diseases saves millions of lives every year, and improved coverage throughout the world could save millions more according to the World Health Organization. That being said, not everyone should be vaccinated.
“Because of age, health conditions, or other factors, some people should not get certain vaccines or should wait before getting them,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
While vaccinations are the rule, and exceptions are rare, there actually are some instances when you shouldn’t get a vaccination.
You may not know how to tell if you’re allergic before getting a vaccine. The best way is to do your research on the vaccine and speak to your doctor about allergies you know you have. That way, if a vaccine component is an allergen, you know not to get it.
If you have an allergic reaction to a vaccine, it could make sense to skip future doses of multi-dose vaccines, such as the DTaP vaccine for children which prevents diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. However, serious allergic reactions occur in less than one in a million doses, according to the CDC and are so rare, it is difficult to tell if they are caused by the vaccine.
Signs to look for include hives, face and throat swelling, difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness, all of which would start within a few minutes to a few hours after vaccination.
Depending on your illness, you may need to delay getting vaccinated, or you may need to skip it altogether. For example, if you are moderately ill — with more than a cold — delay getting the following vaccines until you recover:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Human papillomavirus
- Meningococcal ACWY
- Serogroup B meningococcal
On the other hand, if you have any disease that affects your immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, or have a weakened immune system because of cancer or other medical conditions, you may not ever be a suitable candidate for certain vaccinations.
Vaccinating children is essential to their health and the health of those around them, but it’s important to do so at the right time. Children younger than 6 weeks should not receive the Hib vaccine or yellow fever vaccine.
The Hib vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b, a serious disease that usually affects children under 5 and certain adults. Before the vaccine, the disease was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, an infection that can cause brain damage, deafness and death, for that young age group. As such, plan on vaccinating your child starting at two months old.
As for yellow fever, avoid traveling with your infant to areas at risk in certain parts of Africa and South America until the vaccine is safe to administer.
Women pass on antibodies, so certain vaccines are essential during pregnancy. However, others should be given before or after pregnancy, and a few should be delayed until a woman is done breastfeeding:
- Adenovirus (only for military personnel)
- HPV (OK while breastfeeding)
- Japanese encephalitis
- Measles, mumps, rubella and varicella
- Meningococcal ACWY
- Serogroup B meningococcal
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide (no proof of harm to woman or fetus but recommended for pre-pregnancy)
- Yellow fever (avoid travel to areas with this disease)
If you have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, talk to your doctor before getting the influenza vaccine. Additionally, if you have recently been vaccinated against anything else, delay getting the influenza vaccine until four weeks have passed, as “live vaccines given too close together might not work as well,” according to the CDC.
Skipping or delaying one vaccine doesn’t mean you should do the same with all of them. Vaccinations save lives, both yours and others, with the help of community immunity, also called herd immunity.
“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. “Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines — such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals — get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained.”
You should always consult your doctor before deciding what vaccines do and don’t make sense, but the above considerations can help you be more aware of the big picture so you can plan your questions and appointments accordingly.
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