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What You Need to Know About Vaccines

Adults and children need to get a flu vaccine every year, Sophia reports.

The coronavirus pandemic was declared last March. Since then, scientists around the world have been working to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the virus. So far, a few biopharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, have reported great progress. Pfizer released early data showing that their vaccine is more than 90% effective. 

At the moment, there is no cure for COVID-19, a disease that has claimed more than 1.3 million lives worldwide. A vaccine would help our immune systems learn how to fight the virus so that if we were infected, our bodies would be prepared to fight it.

There are six basic steps for vaccine development: preclinical (research before it is administered on a trial basis), phase I, phase II, phase III, limited use, and approval.



Typically, it takes years to complete the development of a vaccine. But technological breakthroughs and intensive scientific efforts have led to five COVID-19 vaccines being in the limited use stage. However, administering an approved vaccine on a widespread basis is expected to take several months. That makes getting a flu vaccine more important than ever this year.

“Vaccines have probably been the greatest single thing that we’ve done in medicine to save lives,” says Robert Walter, a pediatrician at Brandywine Pediatrics in Wilmington, Delaware.

Across the United States, many people are heeding doctors’ advice to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. “The concern is that if you get the flu, especially if you have lung problems, and get the coronavirus, it could be more severe,” Walter explains.

Brandywine Pediatrics is taking extra steps to make sure that everyone feels comfortable getting a vaccine. Although a flu vaccine is only about 40% effective each year, Walter says, that's a big deal when it comes to saving lives.



What exactly are vaccines, and why are they so important? When most humans are born and throughout their lives, they receive vaccines. Why? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection.” This does not cause you to become sick. Instead, it sparks your immune system to produce T-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and antibodies, a blood protein that helps recognize the cause of the infection. Even when the infection is gone, your body is left with white blood cells that will remember how to fight the illness. Vaccines, like all medications, can have side effects, but those are usually mild.

There are five main kinds of vaccines. For many of them, you need more than one dose. Sometimes you'll get a vaccine when you're little, and need it again when you're older to provide as much immunity as possible. Other times, you’ll need a certain vaccine every year because you need a “booster dose” to bring your immunity level back up. 

For the flu vaccine, adults and children who are 6 months and older need to get a new dose every year. The first time someone gets a flu vaccine, they need two doses. Thereafter, they only need to get an annual flu shot. That's because the flu may change from season to season.

“Every year, flu vaccines are made to protect against the virus that research suggests will be most common,” the CDC says. 

Until a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available, Walter recommends taking basic precautions. “Getting the flu vaccine is really important,” he says, “as well as wearing a mask and keeping socially distanced.”

Photo courtesy of the author