Vaccinations almost seem like a simple math problem. Take the vaccine, add it to your body and there’s no risk of catching the disease for the rest of your life.
But a lot of the time, vaccines aren’t that simple.
Many vaccines require a booster shot after the initial dose to continue preventing the disease. The problem is, countless people ignore the need for a booster shot to stay disease-free in the future.
Why Are Booster Shots Necessary?
Some diseases are more resilient than others. Over time the body can lose the antibodies first provided by a vaccination, leaving it open to the disease once again. After an initial vaccination, the body sometimes needs a wake-up call to continue preventing a disease in the form of a booster shot.
Without these reminders via boosters, there can be resurgent outbreaks of the disease.
Take Russia’s diphtheria outbreak in the early 1990’s.
Diphtheria was an epidemic throughout Russia during the 1950’s, with children the most likely to contract the disease. A vaccine was introduced in 1958 and within five years the number of cases greatly decreased.
The number of diphtheria cases remained low in Russia for over 30 years until a severe outbreak of the disease in the 1990’s. There were almost 40,000 reported cases in 1994 compared to little more than 1,000 cases in 1990.
The only difference between the epidemics is that adults became far more likely to catch the disease in the 1990’s. The same children that were first immunized decades earlier ran low on the antibodies for diphtheria.
This outbreak changed the plan for the diphtheria vaccine in the future. Continue vaccinating children, but keep up immunization by giving booster shots throughout adulthood.
Why Do Some Infections Require Booster Vaccine?
The body remembers how to fight diseases. That’s why vaccines work for long periods of time. The body had the antibodies to fight sickness before and can make them again.
Do you remember us saying that the body needs reminders to fight diseases? That was not an exaggeration, as the body uses immunological memory to remember to create antibodies and fight disease.
But like the rest of the body, this system gets older and slower. The immune system will take longer to create antibodies when exposed to a disease.
If the disease is fast-acting and the antibodies are taking just long enough, then the pathogens win and you get sick.
When Do You Need A Booster Vaccine?
Some diseases are well-known for their annual booster vaccines.
The flu shot is targeted at certain influenza strains present in that year, so a new vaccine is necessary with every annual flu season.
For many other vaccines though, the need for a booster depends on other details. Booster shots may be needed if you were born before a vaccine became a legal requirement or in a region of the world that did not provide the immunization.
Booster vaccines may also be necessary to travel outside of the country. Some diseases that have been eradicated in certain regions, like Polio or Typhoid in the U.S. and Canada, are still active in other parts of the world.
Travel Vaccinations that Require Boosters:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Twinrix (Hepatitis A & B)
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Polio (for some individuals)
- Rabies (pre- and post-exposure)
- Yellow Fever
Routine Vaccinations that Require Boosters:
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella
- Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis
- Tetanus and Diphtheria
It is not only important to check if you will need a booster vaccine, but also to remember when it will be needed.
If you are unsure of your vaccination history, consider titer testing to learn if you are immune. Your local Passport Health clinic can help, book your appointment today by calling or schedule online now.
Have you ever been infected with an illness you thought you were immune to? Share your thoughts on booster vaccines and their importance to your health in our comments section below, on Twitter or via Facebook.