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Immunizations save lives. They are the best way to help protect you or your child from certain infectious diseases. They also help reduce the spread of disease to others and prevent epidemics. Most are given with a needle. They are sometimes called vaccines, or vaccinations.
In many cases when you get a vaccine, you get a tiny amount of a weakened or dead form of the organism that causes the disease. This amount is not enough to give you the actual disease. But it is enough to cause your immune system to make antibodies and cells that can recognize and attack the organism if you are ever exposed to it.
Sometimes a vaccine does not completely prevent the disease, but it will make the disease much less serious if you do get it.
Some immunizations are needed only one time. Others require several doses over time to help your body be able to fight the disease (build immunity).
If you are planning to get pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about what immunizations you have had and what you may need to protect your baby. And if you live with someone who is pregnant, make sure your vaccines are up-to-date. See Immunizations and Pregnancy for more Information.
If you need immunizations for travel to other countries, contact a travel health clinic or talk to your doctor or pharmacist at least 6 weeks before you leave. They will let you know if you need any vaccines or other medicines.
Childhood immunization schedules may vary in each province and territory. Ask your healthcare provider what vaccines your child should get. Other vaccines may be recommended too, if your child has certain health problems.
The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) provides recommendations for the use of vaccines in Canada, but specific immunization schedules are developed by provincial and territorial health authorities. Commonly recommended immunizations include:footnote 1
Immunizations start right after birth, and many are given throughout a baby's first 23 months. Booster doses (the later doses of any vaccines that need to be repeated over time) occur throughout life.
Fewer immunizations are needed after age 6, but older children and adolescents need immunizations too. Talk with your healthcare provider about the specific vaccines that your child or teenager may need. Some immunizations are also given during adulthood (such as diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine).
It is important to keep a good record, including a list of any reactions to the vaccines. When you enroll your child in daycare or school, you may need to show proof of immunizations. Your child may also need the record later in life for university, employment, or travel.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you or your child plans to be in a group living situation, like a university dormitory or summer camp. You may want certain immunizations, like those for meningococcal disease.
The vaccines you need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans but also on who you are in close contact with and what vaccines you had as a child.
Talk to your healthcare provider about which vaccines you need. Immunizations recommended for adults include:
Most side effects from vaccines are minor, if they occur at all. Ask your healthcare provider about the reactions that could occur. They may include:
Severe reactions, such as trouble breathing are rare. If you or your child has an unusual reaction, call your doctor.
See the following pages for more information about reactions that can happen after immunizations.
False claims in the news have made some parents concerned about a link between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella immunization. But studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.footnote 2, footnote 3
Some parents question whether mercury-containing thimerosal (used as a preservative in some vaccines) might cause autism. Studies have not found a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.footnote 4 Today, all routine childhood vaccines made for Canada contain either no thimerosal or only trace amounts.footnote 5
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Childhood immunization recommendations and schedules may vary by province and territory. Immunizations are recommended because they protect against diseases (give immunity) or make a disease less severe if your child does get it. These schedules outline the immunizations and booster shots needed from birth through age 18, as well as when catch-up immunizations should be given.
The schedule for a premature infant is the same as for a full-term infant. But sometimes the hepatitis B vaccine is delayed.
Many immunizations require more than one dose, given at varying intervals. Although your child does not need to restart the series if a scheduled dose is missed, the immunization should be given as soon as possible. Consult your health professional or public health unit if your child missed an immunization or to find out whether your child needs a specific immunization.
The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) provides recommendations for the use of vaccines in Canada. But specific immunization schedules are developed by provincial and territorial health authorities. Commonly recommended immunizations include:footnote 1
This shot protects against chickenpox.
Who should get it?
The combination MMRV shot can be given in place of the chickenpox vaccine. The vaccines for chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella are all in this one shot.
This shot (immunization) protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis).
This immunization helps protect against influenza. Influenza viruses are always changing, so the influenza vaccines are updated every year.
There are different ways to get a flu vaccine. Ask your child's doctor what is right for your child. Visit https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health.html for more information about the flu vaccine.
This shot protects against a bacteria that can cause an infection in the lungs (pneumonia) or the covering of the brain (meningitis), skin and bone infections, and other serious illnesses in young children. It does not protect against viral influenza (flu).
This shot protects against hepatitis B.
This shot protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.
There is a measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (MMRV) shot that also protects against chickenpox (varicella). Talk to your child's doctor about the pros and cons of the MMRV shot. It can be given to children ages 12 months to 12 years.
This shot protects against meningitis and blood infections (sepsis).
Children 2 and older who have a high risk for getting and having severe problems from meningitis should also have another type of meningococcal vaccine. These children include those who have a damaged or missing spleen or who have certain immune system problems.
This shot protects against meningitis, blood infections (sepsis), pneumonia, and ear infections.
This shot protects against polio.
This immunization protects against rotavirus infection, which causes severe diarrhea.
Your child's doctor or health professional may recommend other immunizations, depending on the recommendations in your province and whether your child is at higher risk than other children for certain health problems. Some of these other immunizations may include:
This shot protects against hepatitis A disease.
Combination vaccines may be preferred to separate shots because they reduce the number of needle pricks.
It is important to keep accurate records of immunizations, including any reactions to the vaccines. When you enroll your child in daycare or school, you may need to show proof of immunizations. Also, your child may need the record later in life for university, employment, or travel.
You may worry that immunizations are dangerous if given when your child has a cold or other minor illness. Talk to your child's doctor if you have concerns about the timing of immunizations. Immunizations can usually still be given during a mild illness, while medicines are being taken, and in other situations where a child may not be in perfect health. Also, getting several vaccines at the same time is as safe as getting one shot at a time.footnote 8 There are very few reasons for which doctors suggest that a person postpone or not get an immunization.
Some parents fear that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine may cause their child to develop autism. Misleading stories about the MMR shot and autism have circulated through websites, the media, and word of mouth. But scientific studies have found no connection between autism and the vaccine.footnote 9
For more information about vaccine safety studies and vaccine side effects, see the topic Immunization Safety.
Adolescents need certain immunizations and booster shots for ongoing protection (immunity) against diseases. Consult your health professional or public health office if your child missed an immunization or if you need to find out whether your child needs a certain one.
The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends a specific immunization schedule for children and adolescents.footnote 13 But recommendations may also come from the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) or your provincial or territorial ministry of health. Immunization schedules may vary in each province and territory. Visit www.immunizealberta.ca for information about immunizations in Alberta.
Immunizations recommended for adolescents include the following.
Some adolescents may need or want more immunizations for situations that increase a person's risk for exposure to disease, such as health problems or travelling to other countries. They may have missed immunizations when they were younger. Or a vaccine may not have been offered when they were younger. These immunizations may include:
Most side effects from vaccines are minor, if they occur at all. The healthcare provider may have your child stay in the office for up to 15 minutes after the vaccines are given, to watch for any reactions.
You may worry that immunizations are dangerous if they are given when your child has a cold or other minor illness. In most cases, your child can still have immunizations even if they have a mild illness, are taking medicines, or have other health problems. There are very few reasons for which healthcare providers suggest that a person postpone or not get an immunization. If you have questions, call Health Link at 811. Your child’s doctor or public health nurse can also let you know if your child needs to wait before they have an immunization.
For more information about vaccine safety studies and vaccine side effects, see the topic Immunization Safety or go to ImmunizeAlberta.ca
Keeping Good Records It’s important to keep good records of immunizations. Always ask for a record when your child is immunized. Keep the record in a safe place. Don’t throw it away. You may be asked to show these records by your child’s school or daycare. Your child might also need these records for university, work, or travel. Keep track of when your child needs immunizations. Put reminders on your calendar or in your phone. Ask your doctor to review your child's immunization records at appointments.
Your need for immunizations does not end when you reach adulthood. The immunizations you need depend on:
The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends immunization schedules for the general adult population and adults with medical conditions (including pregnancy). Recommendations vary in each province and territory. For Alberta-specific recommendations, visit www.immunizealberta.ca. Your health healthcare provider will consider your medical and immunization history (and documentation) when deciding which vaccines you need. Immunizations recommended for adults include:
For more information about influenza, see the topic Influenza (Seasonal Flu). For the most current Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines, go to canada.ca/flu.
Other immunizations you may need or want (depending on your risk) include:
Before you become pregnant, discuss your immunization history with your health professional. Your immunity protects both you and your baby. Some vaccines (such as the ones for influenza (flu) and dTap) can be given during pregnancy. You need 1 dose of the influenza vaccine each influenza season. If you’re pregnant, you should get the dTap vaccine even if you’ve had it before. In Alberta, dTap is recommended in every pregnancy, usually between 27 and 32 weeks. Other vaccines need to be given before or soon after pregnancy.
If you are pregnant, your children should still get their immunizations on schedule. You do not need to speed up or delay your other children's immunizations.
You may worry that immunizations are dangerous if they are given when you have a cold or other minor illness. In most cases, you can still have immunizations even if you have a mild illness, are taking medicines, or have other health problems. There are very few reasons for which healthcare providers suggest that a person postpone or not get an immunization. If you have questions, call Health Link at 811. Your doctor or public health nurse can also let you know if you need to wait before you have an immunization.
For more information about vaccine safety studies and vaccine side effects, see the topic Immunization Safety or go to ImmunizeAlberta.ca.
Keeping Good Records
It’s important to keep good records of immunizations. Always ask for a record when you are immunized. Keep the record in a safe place. Don’t throw it away. Keep track of when you need immunizations. Put reminders on your calendar or in your phone. Ask your doctor to review your immunization records at appointments.
Talk with your health professional months in advance of a trip to find out whether any immunizations are recommended. Certain things, such as your age and health, where you are going, and the length of your stay, affect your risk of disease and your need for immunization.
Your age and health
People with certain medical conditions, such as immune system problems, may have different immunization recommendations than healthy people. Also, young children who are travelling may need to receive their routine immunizations sooner than normally scheduled.
Where you travel
In most developed countries (including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and western and northern European countries), the risk of exposure to serious diseases is generally no greater than it is in Canada.
The risk of exposure to serious disease may be much higher in developing countries (such as those in most parts of Africa and Asia and many parts of South and Central America) than it is in most developed countries. This is especially true for areas with poor sanitation (for example, poor water and food handling). For example:
The need for these vaccines depends on your immunization history, the specific area you plan to visit, the time of year, and whether any outbreaks of disease have recently occurred.
How you travel and types of activities
Certain activities or modes of travel increase your risk of exposure to disease. These include:
Length of stay
The longer you stay in a country, the more exposure you have to local pathogens that could cause harm.
You can get information about travel immunizations by:
For more information on immunizations and health related to travel, see the topic Travel Health.
The Canadian government has developed plans on how to respond to possible bioterrorism threats.
Certain diseases have been identified that pose the greatest threat to the Canadian public. At this time, there is a supply of anthrax and smallpox vaccines only. These immunizations are not currently available to or recommended for the general public. But the government has advised immunization for people at high risk of exposure to anthrax or smallpox, such as health care workers specifically designated to respond to a bioterrorism emergency. Some of these recommendations are listed below.
This shot protects against anthrax.
Six shots are given over 18 months. And booster shots are needed every year for continued protection (immunity).
This shot protects against smallpox.
This shot is given once as several quick punctures on the upper arm, using a special prong device. Immunity after a first-time vaccination is likely to be 3 to 5 years. If you have been vaccinated in the past, successful revaccination may extend your immunity.
The Government of Canada has enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate Canadians in an emergency.footnote 12
Visit the Public Health Agency of Canada's Emergency Preparedness and Response website at www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/emergency-preparedness-response.html for more information. For more general information about bioterrorism issues, see the topic Disasters and Other Public Health Threats.
Call 911 or other emergency services if you or your child has:
Call your doctor if:
Talk with your doctor about whether you need special immunizations because you:
Many immunizations are given as shots (injections). Your child may experience brief pain as the needle penetrates the skin or muscle. Some vaccines cause more discomfort than others. In general, you can help decrease your child's discomfort by making sure that he or she is physically comfortable and well rested before getting immunized. You can use home treatment measures to help relieve some of the common minor reactions to immunizations.
You can help relieve some of the common, temporary, mild reactions to immunizations with basic home care.
For more information about reactions to immunizations, see When to Call a Doctor.
CitationsNational Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2018). Canadian Immunization Guide: Part 4—Active Vaccines. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-part-4-active-vaccines.html. Accessed: November 13, 2020.Demicheli V, et al. (2008). Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).Peacock G, Yeargin-Allsopp M (2009). Autism spectrum disorders: Prevalence and vaccines. Pediatric Annals, 38(1): 22–25.Parker SK, et al. (2004). Thimerosal-containing vaccines and autistic spectrum disorder: A critical review of published original data. Pediatrics 114(3): 793–804.Taylor LE, et al. (2014). Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Vaccines, 32(29): 3623–3629.National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2007). Thimerosal: Updated statement. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 33(ACS-6): 1–13. Also available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/07pdf/acs33-06.pdf.National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2020). Canadian Immunization Guide chapter on influenza and statement on seasonal influenza vaccine for 2020–2021. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/vaccines-immunization/canadian-immunization-guide-statement-seasonal-influenza-vaccine-2020-2021.html.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book), 12th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/index.html.Demicheli V, et al. (2012). Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3. Accessed January 22, 2019.Deeks SL, et al. (2017). Summary of the NACI update on the recommended use of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine: Nine-valent HPV vaccine two-dose immunization schedule and the use of HPV vaccines in immunocompromised populations. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 43(6): 138–142. Accessed November 5, 2018.Deeks SL, et al. (2017). Summary of the NACI update on the recommended use of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine: Nine-valent HPV vaccine two-dose immunization schedule and the use of HPV vaccines in immunocompromised populations. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 43(6): 138–142. Accessed November 5, 2018.Public Health Agency of Canada (2004). Emergency preparedness: Smallpox. Available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ep-mu/smallpox-eng.php.
Adaptation Date: 3/1/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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