Tracking down vaccination and immunization records is easier now than ever. In the past, if parents didn’t keep a hard copy of a child’s vaccines, there was very little an adult could do to recover those records. Now, many states have secure and confidential immunization registries. They even store records from multiple sources — schools, health departments and healthcare providers — in a centralized system. It’s one of the easiest ways for people to keep track of their immunization records and stay up to date with their recommended vaccine schedule.
Immunizations Vs. Vaccinations
“Vaccination describes the act of receiving a vaccine. Immunization and inoculation describe the process of becoming immune through vaccination,” says Kristina Duda, RN, writing for VerywellHealth.com. These days, doctors don’t have a lot of time to spend with patients. That’s why it’s up to all of us to ask a lot of questions when we have the chance and also do our homework so that we understand the information that healthcare professionals provide to us.
The reason vaccines are so important is because they trigger the immune system to protect all of us against infections and diseases, including those that are contagious. The immunization process relies on vaccinations, rather than exposure to infection, to make us resistant to diseases.
Vaccine and Immunization Schedule
Every year, medical professionals issue a recommended immunization schedule. They provide a timeline for which vaccinations kids and adults should get. New parents, especially, hear a lot about immunization schedules because before every child’s 18th birthday, kids need several vaccines to protect them (and their family members, friends and classmates) from dangerous diseases.
To make it easier for parents to be sure kids get their recommended vaccinations on time, there are two main immunization schedules: Birth to 6 years and 7 to 18 years.
Vaccines for Birth to 15 Months
Daycare centers, school and camps are places kids congregate and can spread contagious diseases to one another. To prevent outbreaks, they often require enrollees to get vaccinated.
Recommended Childhood Vaccines
- Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver. Lifelong carriers can develop incurable liver diseases. HepB vaccines can create long-term immunity.
- Rotavirus: This virus can cause diarrhea, vomiting, high fever and pain. This vaccine has reduced the risk of hospitalizations by about 80 percent, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
- DTaP: This vaccine protects against severe complications associated with diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, especially in infants. Diphtheria is an infection that can cause breathing problems. A bacteria-contaminated wound can cause tetanus, a nerve disease. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a respiratory disease. Unvaccinated teens and adults can unknowingly pass pertussis on to vulnerable children.
- Hib: Until this vaccine was developed, Haemophilus influenzae type b was the leading cause of meningitis in children under the age of 5.
- Pneumococcal conjugate: The bacteria that cause pneumococcal infections are spread via person-to-person contact. They can lead to potentially deadly illnesses like pneumonia and meningitis.
- Inactivated poliovirus: Polio is an infection that can lead to permanent paralysis.
- Influenza: Two populations that are at risk for life-threatening flu infections are young children and the elderly.
- MMR: Measles, mumps and rubella are highly contagious infections. More than 95% of children who get the MMR vaccine have lifelong immunity.
- VAR: The varicella vaccine is so successful that kids who do catch the highly contagious chickenpox virus typically experience mild symptoms. Kids (and adults) with no immunity to chickenpox are at risk of severe illness.
- HepA: Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection. Outbreaks are more likely to occur at childcare centers and schools.
Vaccines for 18 Months to 18 Years
Many of the vaccinations recommended for kids over the age of 18 months are second doses, boosters, and annual vaccinations. Their purpose is to provide immunity to contagious diseases and bacterial infections. Before vaccines came along, illnesses like polio, mumps and measles were responsible for causing an enormous amount of suffering and deaths. Vaccines led to the eradication of some common disease and made others less severe.
Vaccines for Adults and the Elderly
Adults who followed their childhood immunization schedule typically need annual vaccinations to protect against severe illnesses associated with contagious diseases like influenza and shingles (FYI, while shingles is generally not contagious, according to the NIH, someone who has an active infection can still spread the virus.)
Other vaccinations are recommended based on an individual’s lifestyle choices, such as pregnancy status, sexual behaviors and travel habits. For example, healthy adults can get a tetanus booster, or Tdap, once every 10 years. However, experts say that women should get vaccinated during every pregnancy. Not only does the Td booster protect against tetanus — a disease of the nervous system — but also whooping cough and diphtheria, both of which can cause breathing problems.
Important Vaccines for Different Stages of Life
Newborns need more vaccines than any other age group, followed by infants and older kids. While adults between the ages of 18 and 50 should get annual vaccines and boosters, they don’t need as many as elderly adults. Here is a breakdown of vaccine requirements for different age groups.
Experts determine vaccine schedules for healthy adults by age, vaccination history, lifestyle, occupation, travel habits, and sexual activity. Here are two vaccines or boosters that most healthy adults need to prevent severe illness or maintain immunity.
- Influenza: The flu vaccine changes every year in effort to prevent outbreaks that experts project are most likely to spread during the upcoming flu season.
- Tetanus: Tetanus was once a deadly disease. Now it’s considered rare and preventable. Since 1999, fewer than 10 deaths per year have been attributed to tetanus.
Here is a recommended immunization schedule for adults over the age of 19.
Maternal vaccines protect moms and unborn babies. There are some vaccines that newborns are too delicate to get. Their only protection is when mom gets her shot. Here are a few of the vaccines experts say pregnant women need:
- Influenza: The flu shot protects mom and baby. Pregnant women are at increased risk for influenza and complications can require hospitalization.
- Hepatitis B: Most people don’t know when they’re infected with HepB. An infected mom can pass it on to her baby.
- Tdap: Women should receive a Tdap vaccine anytime between weeks 27 and 36 of gestation.
Here is a comprehensive list of vaccines for pregnant women, published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
More than any population (other than infants) the elderly are most at risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death from otherwise common diseases, like the flu. It’s important that older adults work with their healthcare providers to keep up with a recommended vaccination schedule.
- Influenza: “The vast majority of deaths due to influenza occur among the elderly” starting at age 65, according to health and disease researchers at Statista.
- Shingles: Shingles is a painful viral infection. The vaccine can shorten the duration of the virus and reduces the chance of complications.
- Covid-19: Older unvaccinated adults are at higher risk for hospitalization and death from Covid than any other age groups, according to the CDC. Adults over the age of 65 who received two doses of the Covid vaccine showed a 94 percent reduced risk of virus-related hospitalizations.
How to Pay for Vaccinations
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. There are programs that will fully cover the cost of certain vaccines for those who don’t have health insurance. Vaccines for Children (VFC) is a federally-funded program that provides vaccines to children whose parents or guardians can’t afford healthcare.
Medicare Part B covers many vaccines at little to no cost. Medicare Part D is a supplementary prescription drug benefit for older adults and those with long-term disabilities. It’s one of the most affordable ways for this population to get their recommended vaccinations.
Most states have programs and community health facilities to address the healthcare needs of indigent children, people of all ages living with long-term disabilities and those living under the poverty line. (See our recent article, Community Health Centers Recognized, for more information about these crucial healthcare services.)
Keeping Track of Vaccine Records and Immunizations
As anyone can plainly see, there are a lot of vaccines to keep track of. And, historically, it hasn’t been easy to seek out vaccine and immunization records. If you want to find out what vaccinations you’ve had and which ones you’re due for, here are some ways to find older medical records.
How to Get Immunization Records
- Start with your parents. Did your mom and dad write down and record your every step, first words and milestones? It’s possible your baby book has copies of your earliest health records, too.
- Contact your pediatrician’s office. Laws vary from state to state, but many counties require physicians to maintain medical records for up to seven years. If you’re in your early to mid-20s, your childhood doc should still have your vaccination records. If you’re in your late 20s or 30s, it’s not likely but still can’t hurt to ask.
- Contact your school. If you got vaccinations at your school’s health clinic, that’s a good place to start. But keep in mind that most schools won’t hold onto medical records longer than required, which can be from one to seven years after the student leaves that system. If health records are classified as “permanent school records,” then the institution may need to retain them for anywhere from 20 to 60 years. (You can check your state’s records retention schedule before contacting the school.)
- Contact your immunization provider. If you were immunized at a pharmacy, like CVS or Walgreens, they may have a copy of your vaccination records.
- Contact your state’s immunization information systems (IIS). Start by reaching out to the state’s health department.
Download a Vaccine Schedule
While you’re thinking about what vaccines you’ve had in the past and which ones you need to have at different stages of your life, it couldn’t be a better time to download a vaccine schedule. It’s a document you can keep on your phone or give to your primary care physician so that your medical provider always knows when you’re due for a vaccine.
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While vaccines and immunizations are discussed briefly in chapters 2 and 5 of Decoding Health Insurance and the Alternatives: Options, Issues, and Tips for Saving Money, this comprehensive guide takes a deep dive into different kinds of health insurance and types of healthcare coverage available in the U.S. It’s also packed with tips on saving money on healthcare and health insurance.
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