Vaccinations for the Whole Family

Written By:Stacy Simon
nurse applies a band aid to a teen girl's arm after a vaccination

As the new school year begins, protect your children by making sure they are up to date with vaccinations. In fact, your state may require children entering school to be vaccinated against certain diseases. Check with your child’s doctor, the school, or your health department to find out. While you’re at it, check your own records to make sure you’re protected, too.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children newborn through college need vaccines to protect them from 16 serious diseases, including measles, whooping cough, and polio. Children and teens ages 7 to 18 need booster shots because some vaccine doses wear off over time.

Children and teens ages 7 to 18 may also be more at risk for certain diseases such as meningitis and bloodstream infections and need the protection vaccines provide. Check with your child’s doctor to be sure.

Millions of children are safely vaccinated each year. The most common side effects are typically very mild, such as pain or swelling at the injection site.

HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine protects against human papilloma virus infection. HPV infection is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV infection can also cause several other types of cancer.

Both girls and boys should get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, though the series can be started as early as age 9. Older kids and young men and women may also benefit. See the full American Cancer Society recommendations for HPV vaccination.

Flu vaccines

The best way to keep from getting the flu is to get a flu shot (vaccination). The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated every year, with very rare exceptions. Generally, people who’ve had a severe life-threatening reaction to a flu shot in the past or any ingredient used in the vaccine are the only ones who shouldn't get it. People who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome should ask their doctor, as should people who are allergic to eggs. The CDC says some people with egg allergies can safely get the vaccine. And talk to your doctor before getting the flu vaccine if you are not feeling well.

People with certain medical conditions, including cancer, are at a higher risk for flu-related complications. That makes it even more important for cancer patients, survivors, and their caregivers to get the seasonal flu vaccination. Cancer patients and survivors who think they have the flu, or have been near someone else who has it, should call their doctor right away. Doctors can’t cure the flu, but they can prescribe antiviral drugs that help you get better faster. If you’re in active treatment for cancer, check with your doctor before getting the flu shot.

For adults

Grown-ups also need to stay up-to-date with vaccinations, not just for their own sake but also to keep the kids and the elderly adults around them healthy, too.

Which vaccinations you need depends on your age, lifestyle, health, travel, and vaccination history. The CDC says most adults may need vaccinations for:

  • Seasonal flu: for all people, every year
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Tetanus, diphtheria: every 10 years
  • Shingles: for ages 50 and older
  • Pneumonia: for ages 65 and older, and for those younger than age 65 with certain health conditions

Some adults may also need:

  • Hepatitis B: for adults with diabetes or who are at risk for the disease
  • HPV
  • Hepatitis A
  • Chickenpox
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella

The best course of action is to ask your doctor which vaccines are right for you. 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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