April 23-30 is National Immunization Awareness Week, a time to recognize the importance of immunization and the success and impact vaccines have had in protecting and saving lives in Canada and around the world.  

Though COVID vaccines have been dominating the headlines the past few years, there are a number of vaccines Canadian adults should ensure they are current on to stay healthy and prevent serious illness. And it’s now more important than ever – a recent poll found that as many as 1 in 4 adults missed, or is unsure if they missed, routine vaccinations for themselves or their child during the pandemic.

“Vaccines work with our immune systems to help us safely develop immunity to a number of serious diseases, many of which are totally preventable,” said Dr. Naila Kassam, primary care physician and Think Research’s Senior Medical Advisor. They are a safe and effective way to reduce your risk of negative outcomes caused by dangerous diseases.”

Here are some life-saving vaccines every Canadian adult should have:


What is it?

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade your body, they produce a toxin that causes painful muscle contractions. Infections can cause a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock (lockjaw), making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Without treatment, tetanus can be fatal.

How do you get it?

The most common ways to contract tetanus include:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, feces, or saliva
  • Puncture wounds caused by nails, needles, etc.
  • Burns

Who should be immunized and when: Everyone, every 10 years


What is it?

Diphtheria is a serious infection caused by strains of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The bacteria make a toxin that can make it difficult to breathe, and can lead to heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Thankfully, due to a widespread vaccination, this disease is rare in many developed countries.

How do you get it?

Diphtheria bacteria spread from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. You can also contract it from touching infected open sores or ulcers.

Who should be immunized and when: Everyone, every 10 years (Tetanus and Diphtheria are typically combined into one vaccine.) 


What is it?

Influenza is an extremely contagious viral illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause a range of cold-like symptoms including fever, muscle aches, chills and sweats, headache, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea. Young children, seniors, and people with chronic medical conditions face an increased risk of developing influenza-related complications.

How do you get it?

Influenza spreads through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

Who should be immunized and when: Everyone annually (typically late October to December), especially those at increased risk.


What is it?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae (or pneumococcus) bacteria. Pneumococcal infections can range from ear and sinus infections to pneumonia and infections in the bloodstream. In severe cases, it can lead to hearing loss, brain damage and death.

How do you get it?

Pneumococcal bacteria is spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva or mucus.

Who should be immunized and when: Children under five years of age, adults 65 and older (earlier if immunocompromised or at-risk for pneumonia).

Varicella (Chickenpox)

What is it?

Varicella (chickenpox) is an infectious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It causes an itchy, blister-like rash that first appears on the chest, back, and face, but can spread over the entire body. Chickenpox can be serious in babies, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.  

How do you get it?

Chickenpox is highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with blisters, saliva or mucus of an infected person. It can also be transmitted through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Who should be immunized and when: People who have not had the vaccine or chickenpox.

Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

What is it?

Herpes zoster or shingles is a viral infection caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes varicella (chickenpox). It causes a painful rash and/or blisters on the skin.

How do you get it?

If you’ve had chickenpox, the virus will remain dormant in your body and can reactivate, causing shingles. Risk of reactivation increases starting at age 50 and up as your immune system starts to weaken. Most people who develop shingles will have only one episode in their lifetime, however it’s possible to have it more than once. Direct contact with fluid from blisters can cause chickenpox in individuals who never had chickenpox or did not receive the chickenpox vaccine.

Who should be immunized and when: Everyone 50 and older


What is it?

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease caused by the SARS-Co V-2 virus. It can cause a range of cold or flu-like symptoms, including cough, fever or chills, shortness or breath or difficulty breathing, and muscle or body aches. In severe cases, it can lead to respiratory failure, long-term lung and heart muscle damage, kidney failure, and death.

How do you get it?

The COVID-19 virus is spread through droplets in the air when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.

Who should be immunized and when: Everyone 5 and older (earlier age groups may become eligible in the coming months)

Vaccines have greatly reduced, even eliminated many of the deadly diseases that once routinely killed both children and adults, however the bacteria and viruses that cause these diseases still exist. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and those around you. If you missed or are behind on any vaccines, talk to your doctor today about getting caught up. 

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