During the pandemic, a large number of people fell behind on routine healthcare services such as vaccinations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many adults and children still remain behind schedule.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and it’s a great time to catch up. After all, the kids are heading back to school, the flu season is just around the corner, and vaccines are a tried-and-true way of protecting yourself and your family from certain illnesses. As you’re making your healthcare appointments, here are some facts to know about vaccines, and why they’re important.

Vaccination prevents millions of deaths each year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunization is “one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions,” preventing 2 to 3 million deaths annually. There’s still work to be done, however. The WHO says that an additional 1.5 million lives could be saved if more people choose to be vaccinated.  

Immunizations can start before a baby is even born. That’s because some vaccinations for pregnant people can also help protect the fetus. The Tdap vaccine, for example, which helps protect against whooping cough, is recommended between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy, in order to pass along immunity. In addition, pregnant people who get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine could also be passing along immunity to their unborn child. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.

Vaccines train your immune system to fight invasion. Scientists developed vaccines to help keep individuals and communities healthy. Vaccines work by introducing weak or dead germs into the body, priming the immune system to fight back. If a person does become infected with that condition—whether it’s influenza, COVID-19, HPV or other illnesses—the immune system is ready, and can help keep a person healthy or protect them from getting severely sick.

Immunizations are important throughout life. You read a lot about the importance of immunizations for babies and for older adults, but everyone can benefit from vaccination—early in life, late in life and all the years in between! To give you an idea of who gets what when, the CDC publishes vaccine schedules for all ages, as well as an Adult Vaccine Assessment Tool and a Childhood Vaccine Quiz. But remember, your doctors know you best. Talk to them about what immunizations you need and when you need them.  

Vaccines are important for everyone. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says that vaccination is as important to a person’s health as diet and exercise. That’s because immunization can help keep you healthy, and keep vaccine-preventable diseases at bay.

Scientists are continually developing new vaccines. You’ve likely heard a lot about the COVID-19 and the flu vaccine, along with other routine vaccines that begin in childhood (tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, etc.). But it’s also important to stay on top of more recent vaccine developments, like the first RSV vaccine, and HPV vaccines that protect people from certain types of cancer. Again, talk to your primary care provider about what’s new, what’s on the horizon and what immunizations are right for you.

Each vaccine has its own schedule. Every vaccine is different. With some, a series of doses in quick succession may last a lifetime. Others, such as the influenza vaccine, are updated each year to best protect people against the latest strains of the virus, so it’s important to get your flu shot annually. COVID-19 vaccination is also still important. While the pandemic is no longer still considered a public health emergency, the virus is still out there, and it’s still dangerous. Vaccination can protect you from severe illness, and it may also protect you from long COVID, which is an ongoing health concern.

Vaccine success stories are everywhere. Phrases like “social distancing” and “stay-home-orders” are not-so-distant memories thanks to vaccines developed for COVID-19. But immunization has been successful way beyond the recent pandemic. When’s the last time you heard about diseases such as polio, measles, rubella and mumps? It’s probably been a while, unless you’re hearing stories about the vaccines that prevent those diseases.  

We’ve seen the domino effect that a new disease outbreak can cause, impacting healthcare systems, businesses, supply chains, caregiving and so much more. Looking to the future, we may not be able to prevent another pandemic, but we can take action to protect ourselves from certain existing diseases through vaccination. It only takes a few minutes to get the routine immunizations you need, and the impact is immeasurable.