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Vaccines are one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others from viruses and infectious diseases. Learn what vaccines you need to stay healthy.

Vaccines have saved more lives in Canada than any other medical intervention in the past 50 years. Vaccines in Canada meet strict standards for safety and effectiveness and provide the safest protection available against potentially deadly diseases.

Vaccines activate your body's immune system to protect you against bacteria or viruses that cause specific diseases. Immunization, also called vaccination, helps control and eliminate serious and life-threatening infectious diseases.

There are different kinds of vaccines. Some vaccines given in childhood provide lifelong protection against measles, mumps and rubella. Others, like tetanus, require a “booster” shot at various times during your lifetime to maintain your immunity.

There are some vaccines that you need to get annually like the influenza (“flu”) shot because the viruses that cause flu change from year to year. A few vaccines, such as the one for yellow fever, are only necessary when you travel to specific parts of the world. This is because the virus that causes yellow fever, for example, is transmitted by a type of mosquito that only lives in those regions of the globe.

How to protect yourself and your family

  • make sure that you and your family receive the immunizations recommended by BC's public health experts based on age
  • make a plan to get your shots
  • keep a copy of your vaccination records
  • follow guidelines for vaccinations when travelling

Why immunize?

In the past, people living in Canada died from diseases that are now preventable by immunization, such as diphtheria, measles and polio.

Some of these diseases are still quite common in other parts of the world. Without vaccines for these diseases, international travel could spread them quickly. Immunization helps keep these diseases from coming back within our communities.

Immunizations protect everyone around you as well as preventing you and your family from getting sick. If most people in a community get a vaccine for a particular disease, the chance of that disease spreading within the community is low because the disease has no one to infect and nowhere to spread.

Your family doctor or other primary healthcare provider, as well as your local public health unit, can provide advice on what immunizations you need based on your age and risk level.


Sex, gender & immunization

The World Health Organization report on Sex, Gender and Influenza shows that some viruses, like influenza (flu), affect women worse than men. Pregnancy is a major factor that changes a woman’s response to infections and vaccination. For example, the severity of the flu is worse among pregnant women, especially during the second and third trimesters, than in the general population. Flu shots are safe and effective for pregnant women. In addition, flu shots act to protect the newborn who does not otherwise have protection against flu viruses.

Women are also more likely to be caregivers and are more likely to work in health care-related jobs. This increases women's exposure to infections and viruses and make it even more important that women in these roles ensure they are protected.

Women living in rural and remote areas, with lower social status, low incomes, minimal education, and a lack of economic and decision-making power have more difficulty accessing vaccinations for themselves and their children.

Although most vaccines are free-of-charge to BC residents, lack of financial resources can be a barrier to immunizing against serious illnesses such as hepatitis A.

BC’s High Risk program provides many vaccines free of charge to those with chronic illness or weakened immune systems. 

Contact your health care provider, or call 8-1-1 for more information about which vaccines are available free of charge or have a cost, and which ones are important to protect your own and your family’s health.

‎Cervical cancer kills 50 women in British Columbia every year. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine protects girls and women from more than 70 out of 100 of cancers caused by these viruses. In addition, as HPV causes cancers of anus, mouth, throat, penis, vagina and vulva, the HPV vaccine is also protective against many of these cancers.

‎HPV is one of the most commonly sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Approximately 3 out of 4 sexually active women will get HPV at some point in their lives. HPV commonly does not have any symptoms and you can pass the virus on to someone else without knowing it.

‎Most HPV infections go away without causing any harm your body. But for some people, the virus stays in your body and can infect cells in your vagina, vulva, anus, mouth or throat. This is how cancer can be caused over time.

‎The HPV vaccine is free for girls and women born in 1994 and later. It is given to girls through the school system in grade 6 or by your health care provider. The HPV vaccine is also available free to men who have a high risk of HPV infection, such as men ages 9 to 26 years of age who have sex with men, men who have HIV infection, young men who are in youth custody services or are street-involved.

‎The vaccine is recommended, but not free, for:

  • adult women up to 45 years of age
  • boys and men 9 to 26 years of age
  • men 27 years of age and older who have sex with men.

Learn more about the HPV vaccine.


Throughout your life

Girls and women need different vaccines at different life stages. These age-specific recommendations and resources will help you determine what vaccines you need to protect you from viruses and infectious diseases.

Immunize BC recommends parents follow the immunization schedule based on your child’s age to protect their health and reduce the rate of serious infectious diseases.

Immunizations for newborns are done at two months old, four months old, six months old, 12 months old and 18 months old.


Newborns receive the following publicly funded vaccines at different times over the 5 courses of immunization:

  • DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hepatitis B, Polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b)
  • Pneumococcal conjugate
  • Rotavirus
  • Meningococcal conjugate C
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Varicella (chickenpox).

Aboriginal children living both on-reserve and off-reserve receive the Hepatitis A vaccine free-of-charge starting at 6 months of age.‎

In BC, school-age children receive immunizations at school in grade 6 and in grade 9.

Students in Grade 6 receive the following vaccines at school in BC:

  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Meningococcal C vaccine
  • Chickenpox vaccine
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (for female students only).
Students in Grade 9 receive the following vaccines at school in BC:

  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

For more information about Grade 6 and Grade 9 immunizations in BC, visit HealthLink BC – School Age Schedule.

As an adult your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel patterns dictate the vaccines you need.

If you missed some vaccinations growing up, or if you immigrated (moved) to Canada as an adult, you will need to access some common vaccines for adults:

  • Influenza (flu)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Pneumococcal
  • Shingles
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that everyone age 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine. It is most important to get one if you're at high risk for other health problems from the flu.

Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people who have chronic diseases or weak immune systems.

Talk to your healthcare provider about which shots you need to protect yourself from disease.

Learn more about recommended immunizations for adults.

Pregnancy & Vaccines

Some diseases are more harmful to you and your baby when you are pregnant. Many of these viruses and infectious diseases can be prevented with the right vaccines.

When planning a pregnancy, discuss your immunization status with your health care provider. Some vaccines contain live strains of the virus, which can be unsafe if you are pregnant. Before conceiving, make sure that your vaccinations are up-to-date for the following:

  • Chickenpox (Varicella)
  • Hepatitis
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Polio
  • Rubella (German Measles)
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping Cough (Pertussis).

Many vaccines can be safely given in pregnancy and studies are now showing this is a successful strategy to protect newborns from certain diseases.

Influenza (flu) vaccine

Pregnant women who get the flu are more at risk of serious complications, such as pneumonia, preterm labour and preterm delivery. The flu vaccine protects pregnant women and provides some protection to the baby, both during pregnancy and after the baby is born.

Some women worry that getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy could pose a risk to the baby. Research has shown that the flu vaccine is safe and effective at any stage of pregnancy and reduces the risk of adverse infant outcomes compared to babies born in flu season,  particularly to mothers who are not immunized. There is no evidence of harm to pregnant women or their babies from getting the flu shot. In BC, the flu shot is free for pregnant women.


Childhood vaccines protect you from some diseases but the protection from some vaccines – such as for tetanus and diphtheria - wears off over time so you need boosters. As you get older, you may be at risk for other illnesses, like shingles or seasonal viruses like influenza (flu). If you travel, you may also need additional vaccines for viruses and infectious diseases like yellow fever.

Immunize BC recommends adult women (and men) age 18-64 years ensure they are up-to-date on the following vaccines:

  • Chickenpox (Varicella) vaccine
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Meningococcal C Conjugate (Men-C) vaccine
  • Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

As you age, you become more vulnerable to some viruses and infectious diseases. These vaccines are recommended for adults and seniors:

  • Influenza (flu) (annual)
  • Pneumococcal
  • Shingles

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that everyone age 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine. It is most important to get one if you're at high risk for other health problems from the flu.

Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people who have chronic diseases or weak immune systems.

Talk to your healthcare provider about which shots you need to protect yourself from disease.

Learn more about recommended immunizations for adults.

Older people may be more vulnerable to specific infectious diseases and serious complications from infections such as pneumonia, influenza (flu) and shingles. Women, on average, live longer than men and this increases our risk for infections as we age.

Disease protection from the vaccines you got as a child and during your adult years can wear off over time. You may need 'booster' shots to support your immune system to fight certain viruses and infections. In addition, there are some shots you need to get every year, like the flu vaccine. Keeping up-to-date with your vaccinations is the best way you can stay healthy.

Immunize BC recommends people 65 years of age and older get the following vaccines:

  • Influenza (flu) vaccine (every year)
  • Pneumococcal vaccine
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis).

If you are an older woman or if you care of a senior, talk to your healthcare provider about what vaccinations you or your loved one needs to stay healthy. 


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