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The Truth About Vaccines and Tetanus Shots

The Truth About Vaccines and Tetanus Shots

Vaccines are an important part of staying healthy and preventing illness, but there are a lot of different myths out there about their safety and effectiveness that hold people back from getting them. Here’s the truth about vaccines and tetanus shots in particular. The tetanus shot is among the easiest vaccines to get - in fact, it’s usually the first one kids get when they turn two years old.

The History of Tetanus

Like most vaccines, tetanus vaccinations were developed after a disease was discovered. In 1796, an Irish doctor named Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who contracted cowpox—and recovered from it—were protected from smallpox. The following year, he conducted his famous experiment with an eight-year-old boy: I took some of the [cowpox] virus fresh from a sore...and inserted it into...the arm of...James Phipps, Jenner wrote in his 1798 paper.

Is it really necessary?

Doctors will tell you they’re an essential part of your child’s health. After all, do you really want to risk getting tetanus? Yet there is so much misinformation about these shots that we don’t know what to believe anymore. A lot of parents are afraid to give their kids vaccines because they don’t want them getting ill. What are you supposed to do with conflicting information from everyone around you? To help make your decision, consider these five truths about tetanus shots

Why We Get it in the US

Getting vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio and hepatitis B is all part of a basic health checkup for babies. These diseases are all highly contagious—spread by coughing or sneezing or contact with saliva or mucus—and they’re treatable. What’s more, if you don’t get vaccinated when you’re young, it can be very hard to catch up later in life.

Where Can I get it?

You can get a tetanus shot at any doctor’s office, pharmacy, or local health department. If you’re planning to travel to an underdeveloped country, it is recommended that you get a booster shot (which will protect you for 10 years) if you haven’t had one in more than five years. You can also get it while visiting friends or family who live in high-risk areas like farms.

How They Work

A vaccine is a substance that's injected into your body to help create immunity to certain diseases. As scary as it sounds, it's generally not harmful. In order for a vaccine to work, your body must already have some exposure to whatever you're vaccinating against; otherwise, it doesn't know how to fight off an illness. Tetanus is a serious disease that occurs when bacteria enters an open wound, often caused by stepping on a nail or cutting yourself with an unsterilized object. A tetanus shot trains your immune system to recognize tetanus bacteria when they enter your body and eliminates them before they cause harm.

What are the Side Effects?

As with any medication, there is a chance that you might experience an adverse reaction when you get your tetanus shot. Most of these are mild, but some can be serious. The most common side effects include pain, redness or swelling at the injection site; fatigue; headache; fever; aches and pains; nausea and vomiting. Less common side effects include rashes, hives or breathing problems such as wheezing. Be sure to contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms after getting a tetanus shot. If you have a chronic health condition, tell your doctor before getting a tetanus shot. That way, they can determine whether it's safe for you to receive one given that condition.

How many times do I need it?

Unfortunately, tetanus shots aren’t required by law—they are recommended, but not required. But here’s what you should know: If you have never been vaccinated against tetanus, then I recommend getting a booster shot every ten years to stay safe.


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