Vaccines are considered one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in modern history. Vaccines provide immunity against certain infections by training our immune system to recognize these infections. They introduce an antigen into the body, which stimulates the production of antibodies. Since the antigen has either been weakened or killed, vaccines usually do not make us feel ill. Because vaccines are crucial to stop the spread of disease, they are recommended by health experts worldwide.

Facts on Vaccines

  • Vaccines prevent 4-5 million deaths each year.

  • Measles mortality has declined 73% worldwide due to vaccines.

  • Polio has been eliminated in the United States due to widespread vaccination.

  • Vaccines can prevent around 27 infections

  • The chance of having a severe reaction to a vaccine is approximately 1 in one million.

  • Years of scientific study has proved that there is no link between vaccinations and autism, as autism develops before birth.

Types of Vaccines

Inactivated Vaccines

Antigen is dead when introduced into the body.

  • Hepatitis A

  • Flu

  • Polio

  • Rabies

Life-attenuated Vaccines

Antigen has been weakened when introduced into the body.

  • MMR

  • Rotavirus

  • Smallpox

  • Chickenpox

  • Yellow fever

Subunit, Recombinant, Polysaccharide and Conjugate Vaccines

Specific parts of the antigen is introduced into the body (protein, sugar, capsid)

  • Hib

  • Hepatitis B

  • HPV

  • Whooping cough

  • Pneumococcal disease

  • Meningococcal disease

  • Shingles

  • COVID-19 (Novavax)

Toxoid Vaccines

Toxin made by the antigen is introduced into the body. Creates immunity to the part of the antigen that causes the disease.

  • Diphtheria

  • Tetanus

mRNA Vaccines

Instructs cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response.

  • COVID-19 (Pfizer and Moderna)

Viral Vector Vaccines

A modified version of a different virus is introduced into the body.

  • COVID-19 (Johnson & Johnson)

COVID-19 Vaccine

As of now, there are four COVID vaccines authorized by the FDA.

  • Pfizer-BioNTech

    • Age 6 months +

    • 95% efficacy

  • Moderna

    • Age 6 months +

    • 94.1% efficacy

  • Johnson and Johnson

    • Age 18+

    • 66.3% efficacy

  • Novavax

    • Age 12 +

    • 89.6% efficacy

Asking the Experts

Interview with:

Patrick J. Kenney, D.O., F.A.C.O.I.

Vice Chair, Dept. of Infectious Disease

Cleveland Clinic Florida-Weston Campus

Q: Do you think teenagers are in general getting the recommended vaccinations, or are vaccines underused in this age group?

A: Teenagers under the age of 18 are still considered minors therefore much of the clinical decisions are made by their parents or guardians. I find that if parents are vaccinated, they are more inclined to have their teenage children vaccinated. The pattern of underuse will likely correlate with their unvaccinated parents.

Q: There is a lot of controversy regarding the COVID vaccine in teenagers. What are the potential risks and benefits of this vaccine in this age group?

A: Vaccines in general have been a controversial topic for quite some time. COVID-19 vaccines are no exception. I like to discuss the risks with patients first because there are so few. We have seen some cases of myocardial (heart muscle) inflammation in teenage recipients of the vaccine. This inflammation, though concerning, is fleeting and often treated with just supportive care at home. Other than pain at the injection site, general body aches, and low-grade fever, the vaccine is essentially harmless to the vast majority of people. Of course, questions should always be deferred to a person's primary care physician as they have the full knowledge of a person's medical history and can assist with making the best decision for the patient. As for the benefits, these vaccines are very immunogenic and can cause a sharp rise in virus-neutralizing antibodies to protect a person from becoming infected with the virus and decrease transmission. If a person who is vaccinated becomes infected, the symptoms are much milder, and you will likely recover faster. That being said, you can still transmit the virus once you are infected so you must practice the recommended quarantine. Also, once you are vaccinated, you can protect the younger members of your family who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated. You can also protect the older members of your family who may not have strong immune systems making their vaccine as effective.

Q: Are there any myths or misconceptions discouraging teens from being vaccinated?

A: There are many myths and conspiracy theories out there and they are not just discouraging teenager but also older adults as well. I heard many in my practice. For instance, the fact that the vaccines are not FDA-approved means that its experimental. FDA approval of any new medication, especially a vaccine, can take a long time and these mRNA vaccines have been in development since the SARS outbreak in 2002. I have also heard about possible microchips in the vaccine, 5G signals, nanoparticles, fertility issues, as well as people becoming magnetic from the vaccine. All of these theories are false.

Q: Some people are hesitant to vaccinate because they are afraid of developing side effects months or years after the vaccination. Is this a valid concern?

A: Any medication or vaccine has the potential to elicit side effects. Apart from the side effects I mentioned earlier, there really isn't anything to worry about. These vaccines last in the body for only a couple of days so there is no justification for any long-lasting effects of the vaccine. Many of us have been treated with vaccines with much older technology and we are not seeing any long-term effects from them. These vaccines are no different.