There are a lot of ways to stay healthy, but one of the most common is Vaccines. Vaccines are a safe and effective method for protecting yourself from a number of harmful and preventable diseases. Vaccines work by using our own natural defenses to build immunity to certain infections and strengthen our immune systems.
There are a variety of programs in the U.S. that provide free or low-cost vaccines regardless of immigration status. Read on to find out more about the most important vaccines and where to get them. Vaccines are crucial for protecting your and your family!
What’s a Vaccine?
Every day we come into contact with pathogens (microorganisms that can cause disease) in our environment and our bodies. When someone encounters a harmful organism and gets infected, it can lead to illness and even death. Our bodies have plenty of ways to protect us from these diseases, but sometimes these natural mechanisms fail.
Vaccines are substances that contain weakened or inactivated parts of a harmful organism (referred to as an antigen), that trigger an immune response upon entering the body. This weakened version of the pathogens doesn't cause disease in the person receiving the vaccine, but causes their immune system to respond as if they were exposed to the actual pathogen, creating defenses that will prevent them from getting sick in the future.
Why is it Important to Get Vaccinated?
Throughout history, vaccines have eliminated or greatly reduced many infectious diseases around the world. Vaccines can significantly decrease your chance of contracting certain preventable diseases.
Vaccines don't just protect people who receive them. Thanks to an effect known as herd immunity, vaccines can protect even those who haven't been vaccinated or are unable to get vaccinated because of health problems. This happens because when a large part of the population is vaccinated and becomes immune to a disease, the pathogen that causes it can’t multiply through contagion, making it much less likely that the unvaccinated will be exposed to it.
What Are The Most Common Vaccines?
There are an enormous number of diseases that vaccines have been developed for. The immunization schedule for children in the U.S. stipulates that by age 2, kids should receive ten different vaccines to protect them from a total of fourteen diseases (after this age, some boosters are still required until ages 4-6). The vaccines and the diseases they protect against are:
- Varicella (chickenpox);
- DTaP (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus)
- Hib (haemophilus influenzae type b)
- HepA (hepatitis A);
- HepB (hepatitis B);
- Seasonal influenza (must be updated annually)
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- IPV (polio);
- PCV13 (pneumococcal disease)
- RV (rotavirus)
In addition to completing this childhood immunization schedule, it’s important to keep in mind that the seasonal flu shot requires an annual booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends some adult vaccines as well. These include:
- Influenza: This vaccine has to be boosted every year to be effective. It’s recommended that people over age 50 not receive this vaccine by nasal spray.
- Pneumococcal disease: Adults over 65 or young adults with a condition that makes them prone to pneumococcal disease should receive one of the two vaccines that protect from it (PCV13 or PPSV23).
- Diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus: This vaccine is also part of the childhood immunization schedule. It’s recommended for adults to receive a booster every 10 years and for pregnant women to receive another booster with each pregnancy.
- Herpes zoster (shingles): This disease isn't fatal, but it’s very painful. One dose of the Shingrix vaccine is recommended for healthy people over age 50 to prevent it.
- Human Papillomavirus: This is a very common virus that can cause cancer. To prevent it, one dose is recommended for boys and girls between 11 and 12 years of age. If received later (15-26), three doses will be necessary.
- COVID-19: It’s very important that everyone who is able to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 disease. These vaccines are completely free regardless of immigration status and are very safe! If you haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19 or only partially vaccinated, check the CDC site to find more information.
Can I Get Vaccinated Without Health Insurance in The U.S.?
Most vaccines in the United States have a cost that must be covered by the patient or their insurance. However, there are low-cost or even free options. Local federally-funded health centers have programs that offer low-cost or free vaccines. Your state health department may be able to tell you where to get vaccinated through these types of programs. You can find your state health department information on this site and contact them for more information.
U.S. Vaccines for Children Program
The Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) provides vaccines to children whose parents or guardians can’t afford to pay for them. This helps ensure that all children have a better chance of receiving recommended vaccines on time. The vaccines available through the VFC Program are those recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). These vaccines are provided free of charge at the offices of participating various health care providers.
To get immunized through the VFC program, a child has to meet at least one of the following requirements:
- Be eligible for Medicaid
- Be uninsured
- Be a Native American or Alaska Native
- Vaccination Pricing
There’s no cost for vaccinations obtained through the VCF program. However, the health care provider you see might charge a fee for other items such as vaccine administration, the appointment, or tests deemed necessary during your visit. Be sure to talk to the provider of your choice to find out if you will be charged any fees.
Where Can I Go For Vaccinations?
If you need to get vaccinated, there are several places to get them in every state. You can go to your primary care physician, but many vaccines are also available at the following types of facilities:
Federally-funded local health centers run a variety of low-cost or free vaccination programs. You can find a list of health centers near you by accessing this site. Just type in your location where it says "Enter a location" and click on the magnifying glass icon.
Many common vaccines such as seasonal flu shot are available at your local pharmacy. For example, Walgreens pharmacies provide free vaccines for both COVID-19 and seasonal flu. They also offer other routine vaccinations such as shingles, pneumonia, and pertussis.
If you plan to travel outside the United States, be aware that some foreign countries require vaccinations for diseases that are uncommon in the U.S. For example, countries like Costa Rica require proof of a yellow fever vaccination. The International Society of Travel Medicine has a site where you can find travel clinics. They’ll advise you on travel health requirements and provide you with the necessary vaccinations for safe travel.
Can I Get Vaccinated in The United States if I’m Undocumented?
Everyone who lives in the United States has the right to a dignified and healthy life regardless of their immigration status. Some vaccination programs, like the seasonal flu and COVID-19 vaccination programs, are open to everyone, and there's no requirement to prove your nationality or immigration status to get these vaccines.
Vaccinations for tourists in the U.S.
Everyone who applies to enter the United States as a tourist must show proof that they received a complete WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccination course. If you got any vaccine requiring two doses, you have to get both doses prior to your trip. Booster shots aren’t required for entry. For more information on this topic, visit the CDC website.
Keep in mind: Individuals who apply for an immigrant visa to the United States must show proof that they received other vaccines in addition to COVID-19. You can find a complete list of the vaccines required for these types of visas here.
Protect Yourself And Others!
Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from infectious disease. Keeping your and your family’s vaccinations up to date is crucial.Thanks to the vaccination programs developed by the government and private institutions, you and your family can get access to the vast majority of vaccines regardless of your immigration status.Remember, if you're looking to receive a vaccine that has a cost, our PODERsalud program is an excellent option. With PODERSalud, you can get discounts from 10% to 80% at thousands of pharmacies across the country. If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to contact us through our chat and we’ll gladly assist you.