Here’s Why Vaccination Is Important Throughout Life

An expert shares how it can help protect us.

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Alysa Pompeo, registered pharmacist and medical science liaison at global healthcare company, GSK, answers our questions about how vaccination throughout life can help protect us from serious diseases and why we need to keep our vaccinations up to date.

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1. Why is vaccination so important?

Many devastating vaccine preventable diseases still exist in our communities across Canada and vaccination plays a crucial role in helping protect against those diseases.

Many people think vaccination is only important for children, but that’s not the case. Our immune system ages, just as we do. In the process, it gradually weakens and becomes less effective at protecting us from disease. The protection we had from previous vaccination during childhood can decrease for some diseases, so getting a booster dose can help provide us with enhanced protection by building that immunity back up. Routine vaccines for diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis are important to keep up to date. There are also diseases that we are more vulnerable to as adults — even as healthy adults — such as shingles and pneumococcal disease, and additional vaccines are needed as we get older to help protect us against these diseases.

Lastly, guidelines and recommendations for different vaccines can change over time, making it important for individuals to routinely go over their vaccination status with their healthcare providers. These changes can be the result of new evidence that has been generated, of a change in the local prevalence of a disease, or even a change in disease profile, to name a few examples.

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2. What is herd immunity and how does it help protect communities?

Vaccines help protect you and those around you from vaccine-preventable diseases. Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a population becomes immune to a virus or bacteria either through vaccination or prior infection. If most people within a community are protected against a disease, there is little opportunity for that disease to spread from person to person.

One of the most effective and streamlined ways we can achieve herd immunity within our community is through vaccination. To achieve herd immunity, it’s important for all members of the community to do their part, even if one believes they may be less susceptible to contracting a disease, as herd immunity relies on a large portion of the population becoming immune.

3. If recommended vaccinations have been missed, for example during the pandemic, is there any harm in waiting to catch up?

First and foremost, missing vaccinations could leave the individual exposed and vulnerable to contracting vaccine-preventable illness. In addition, when fewer people in a community are vaccinated this jeopardizes herd immunity, which acts to slow disease transmission.

Don’t wait. A disruption of vaccination programs, even for short periods of time, can result in a higher likelihood of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. A lower uptake of recommended vaccination and reduced coverage can also mean the return of diseases that have previously almost disappeared, which impacts Canadians’ health and the healthcare system. We’ve seen first-hand during the COVID-19 pandemic how overall outcomes can be worsened in situations where healthcare facilities are under strain.

Take the time to speak to your healthcare provider and learn about which vaccinations may be right for you and at what age.

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4. How can I find out if I’m up to date on recommended shots and which ones I may need?

To know which vaccines you and your family may need, it’s important to speak to your healthcare provider. You can also visit vaccinateforlife.ca to download a personalized vaccination tracker.

5. Are there certain life stages, medical conditions, lifestyles, or jobs that put me more at risk for some diseases?

Absolutely. There are several factors that can influence your risk of disease, such as your health, your age, where you live, your occupation, and where you travel.

Taking one’s health as an example, vulnerable populations may have lower immunity and therefore may be more at risk for contracting diseases. This could include infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated, the immunocompromised, older adults and people who cannot receive certain vaccines for medical reasons such as a child receiving treatment for cancer.

6. Why are some vaccines available but not included as part of Canada’s publicly funded routine immunization programs?

It’s true that not all vaccines are covered through provincial public health programs. Some vaccines are publicly funded while others may need to be purchased, and this varies from province to province.
Speaking to your healthcare provider about individual protection will help ensure you and your family are protected against all vaccine-preventable diseases relevant for you.

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7. What lessons have we learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic about vaccination that are important to carry forward?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more Canadians recognize the importance of vaccination as a critical tool for disease prevention, and how it helps protect both individuals and communities at large. It’s important this understanding and momentum continues across all vaccine-preventable illness and that Canadians stay up to date on vaccinations throughout all stages of life.

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Learn which vaccines may be right for you, now and in the future at vaccinateforlife.ca.

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