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Vaccines - Women’s Health Guide


Vaccines are medical preparations given to help the body produce immunity or to fight disease. Vaccines can prevent outbreaks of disease and save lives. Some diseases are rare in the U.S. as a result of safe and effective vaccines.

You can get vaccinated for many common infections such as

  • Influenza
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Streptococcus pneumococcal pneumonia
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)

To see which vaccinations you should get, see Vaccinations for Adults (165 KB, PDF).

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are some of the safest medical products. But, like any other medical product, there may be risks. Talk to your health care provider about the value of vaccines as well as their side-effects. Vaccines are held to a high standard of safety. In the U.S.:

  • Vaccine supplies in the U.S. are the safest, most effective in history.
  • Vaccines are monitored for safety and effectiveness.
  • Vaccines undergo rigorous and extensive testing.
  • Vaccine manufacturers must follow strict production standards.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and three federal agencies primarily work on vaccine safety:
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
    • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Scientists from FDA and CDC work closely to monitor reports of vaccine side effects (adverse events). The Veterans Health Administration monitors vaccine side effects within its facilities as well.
  • Everyone getting a vaccine should receive a Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) that:
    • Explains vaccine benefits and risks.
    • Is handed out before each dose of some vaccines.
    • Is available in Spanish and other languages at Vaccine Information Statements.

Vaccines are the most effective tool we have to prevent infectious diseases.

Are vaccines effective?

Most childhood vaccines produce immunity about 90-100% of the time. No medicine is perfect, so each vaccine has its own degree of effectiveness. History shows that the number of cases of disease starts to drop when a new vaccine starts to be given.

How do vaccines work with your immune system to prevent disease?

  • Vaccines help your body’s immune system prepare to fight germs and infection.
  • When vaccinated, your immune system attacks the harmless vaccine and prepares for future "infections".
  • When the infection comes along, your body will know how to stop it.

How do vaccines protect you and your community?

Vaccines can prevent disease and save lives. If enough people get vaccinated, large outbreaks of disease can be avoided. Even those not vaccinated get some protection when the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as "community" or "herd" immunity. This is true for many diseases, including:

  • Influenza
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rotavirus
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Pertussis
  • Polio
  • Rubella

Your health care provider should have a record of all the vaccines have been given. You should also keep a record.

Illustration of community immunity when no one is immunized and an outbreak occurs

A community in which no one is immunized and an outbreak occurs

Illustration of community immunity when some are immunized but not enough for herd immunity

Some are immunized but not enough for herd immunity

Illustration of herd immunity when enough people are immunized, protecting most in the community

Herd immunity – enough people are immunized, protecting most
in the community

Image Source: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at

For more on vaccines

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