Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living

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Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Branch

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Vaccines

What are vaccines?

Vaccines are also called needles, shots or immunizations. Vaccines help the immune system learn how to recognize and fight the germs that cause diseases.

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Why are vaccines important?What are vaccines?

Vaccines help protect kids and adults against serious diseases and are known to be very safe. Because of vaccines, not many Manitobans and Canadians get sick or die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Sometimes vaccines may cause minor side effects but these are usually mild (such as sore arm or leg, headache, feeling tired) and usually last only a few days.

The diseases and their complications are far more serious than the possible side effects of the vaccines.

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Are you and your child protected?

Are you and your child protected?Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living recommends that infants, children and adults get immunized against diseases such as:

  • diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus (lock jaw), polio, haemophilus influenzae type b
  • measles, mumps and rubella (German measles)
  • pneumococcal infections
  • influenza (the flu)
  • meningitis
  • varicella (chickenpox)
  • hepatitis B and
  • human papillomavirus (HPV)

These vaccines are important because they can protect against these serious diseases.

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Are vaccines completely safe and effective?

Vaccines have been shown to be very safe. Like any other medicine, side effects can occur. No vaccine is 100% effective but they all can protect from disease(s) and serious disease complications.

Remember, talk to your doctor or public health nurse about any concerns you have about vaccines.

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How many doses are required?

The number of doses depends on the age when immunization is started, the type of vaccine and the risk of being exposed to the disease(s) the vaccine protects against. It also depends on the reason for the immunization (ex: preschool boosters at four to six years of age). Some vaccines can be given in one needle while others may need to be given in a series of needles. When more than one needle is required at a time, they are usually given in different locations (ex: one in each leg or each arm).

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Why give more than one vaccine?

Current studies show that children do not have a higher risk of side effects when they receive more than one vaccine at a time. In fact, a child’s immune system, which fights and protects against infections, is capable of reacting to thousands of germs every day, even before birth. Giving more than one vaccine not only reduces the risk of children themselves getting sick but can also help protect family and community members from the diseases we immunize against. Most vaccines can protect against more than one disease.

These vaccines are known as “combination vaccines.” Giving combination vaccines at one clinic visit means fewer needles overall. Common side effects such as soreness and swelling are usually limited to where the needle was given.

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How are the vaccines given?

Vaccines are usually given in the muscle of the thigh in infants or the upper arm for older children and adults. Some vaccines are given just below the skin rather than into a muscle.

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How can paHow can parents prepare their children?rents prepare their children?

Pain and fear associated with needles are usually mild and short lived. While there are no specific techniques (ways) to reduce pain and fear, the following activities may help:

Infants (up to age two):

  • Swaddle or hold your baby, exposing the leg or arm where the needle will be given.
  • Let your baby suck a pacifier (if applicable).
  • Breastfeed or offer “sweet solution” (sucrose)
  • Use a puppet or bell as a distraction.

Toddlers and preschoolers:

Before (Do not begin discussions too far in advance as this may increase fear for some children):

  • Explain what is going to happen at the clinic visit and how it may feel. (HINT: Remind the child how she/he dealt in the past with the pain of a bicycle fall or bee sting.)
  • Be honest about what will happen before, during and after the immunization. (“It will hurt a little bit but only for awhile.”)
  • Read your child a book or watch a video about a child receiving vaccines.
  • Let the child practice giving an immunization. (HINT: Suggest the child immunize a doll or a stuffed toy with an object that looks like a syringe, such as a drinking straw.)
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings and give permission to cry. For example, tell the child: “I bet you would rather not get a needle today” or “Wouldn’t it be great if we could put the vaccines in ice cream?”
  • If more than one child needs to be immunized, the most anxious child (usually older) should be first.
  • Do not threaten the child because she/he may begin to see needles as a punishment.
  • Do not bribe; instead, encourage the child’s efforts.


  • Use distraction techniques (ex: blow soap bubbles – to blow away the pain of the needle; use party blowers – to make noise; make the child laugh with a toy or funny movie).
  • Provide choices (ex: let the child choose the left or right arm; choose to hold a favorite toy).


  • Reward the child. (“Great job! I knew you could do it.”)
  • Remain at the clinic and observe the child for 15 minutes afterwards. This is important in case the child feels unwell, feels faint or – in rare cases – experiences an allergic reaction following the needle(s).
  • Some doctors recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol® or Tempra®) or ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) for fever. Never give acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or aspirin®) to children. A cold damp cloth may also help ease minor pain where the needle(s) was given.

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What are the possible side effects of vaccines?

What are the possible side effects of vaccines?Vaccines may cause side effects that may last for a couple of days. These include redness, swelling and soreness where the needle was given; headache, chills, fever up to 38ºC, drowsiness (being sleepy), fussiness (being cranky), upset stomach and vomiting (especially for young children). Bad or severe side effects should be reported to your doctor or public health nurse.

Vaccine reactions are recorded and monitored in Manitoba and across Canada. That is how we know the side effects from these vaccines are mostly minor. Vaccines offer life-saving protection against many kinds of serious diseases. The benefits of vaccines are far greater than any possible danger or discomfort from side effects.

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Who should not receive vaccines?

Who should not receive vaccines?

There are very few individuals who cannot receive vaccines. A doctor or public health nurse may decide not to give the vaccine.

Each situation will be assessed and a decision will be made either to offer the vaccine at the time of the clinic visit, or at a later date.

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What do I need to know before travelling and what vaccines should I receive?

If you are planning a trip, talk to your public health nurse, doctor or visit your local travel health clinic to see what vaccines may be recommended. Vaccines for travel purposes are not publicly funded by Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living.

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Do we have to get immunized?

No, immunizations are voluntary in Manitoba. But please remember that vaccines help protect you and your child from disease (s) and also help protect others who cannot be immunized because they have certain health conditions. If you want to know more about immunization and why it is important, talk to your doctor or public health nurse.

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Recommended Immunization Resources

Recommended Immunization Resources:

A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination is currently being translated into 11 other languages (in addition to English and French).

Available from your local public health or doctor’s office:

Available at local bookstores:

Available on the Internet:

At your local library:

  • Resources (may include the books listed below)
  • Access to the Internet

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For more information:

Talk to your doctor, public health nurse or call Health Links – Info Santé

204-788-8200 toll-free - in Winnipeg

1-888-315-9257 - outside Winnipeg