Top 5 Ways to Feel Empowered About Vaccine Decision-Making

Vaccines have been around for hundreds of years and have protected millions of people from illness. They’re one of the safest and most effective tools we have for keeping ourselves, our loved ones and our communities healthy.

But there’s a lot of information (and misinformation) about vaccines floating around out there, and it’s not always easy to know what to do.

Here are five ways to empower yourself about vaccine decision-making.

1. Learn how vaccines are made and approved

Making vaccines can be a long process that involves thorough research and several stages of testing. Only after a vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective can it be authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Knowing how vaccines work and learning about the vaccine approval process can help break down the sophisticated science behind vaccine-making, and help reassure you about safety. You can watch our easy-to-understand video on the vaccine approval process, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is also a good resource for information about the vaccine creation and approval process.

Watch: How Vaccines Work >>

2. Figure out which vaccine(s) you might need

Which vaccine(s) you need at any given time depends on a lot of factors, including your age, which vaccines you’ve had already and whether you have any preexisting health conditions. Time of year matters, too — the flu vaccine, for example, is seasonal and should ideally be gotten in the fall.

The CDC is a great resource here, too. They provide a vaccine quiz that helps you figure out which vaccine(s) you need. They also offer tips on how to track down your vaccination records if you’re unsure about your history.

3. Consider your information sources

If there’s one thing you should keep in mind when making decisions about vaccines, it’s that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. When wading through the vast sea of vaccine information online, it’s important to consider where the information is coming from.

Because it’s not always easy to tell legitimate sources of vaccine info from untrustworthy ones, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a Vaccine Safety Net — a global network of websites that provide reliable and accurate information about vaccines. You can search for information using this site and know that whatever you find has been verified as legitimate.

4. Know where to go

You might be surprised by the number of different places you can go to get vaccinated other than your healthcare provider’s office. For example, most large grocery chains and big box stores have pharmacies that offer flu and Covid vaccines, among others. Your insurance most likely covers vaccines given at these locations, although it’s worth calling ahead to make sure.

Your local public health department is another option — one that can be particularly helpful for people without insurance.

Still not sure where to get your Covid and flu vaccines? The federal government has set up a website, www.vaccines.gov, that allows you to enter your ZIP code to find providers near you.

5. Stay informed about illness levels in your area

Another important piece of the vaccine decision-making puzzle involves the level of infection in your community. When you know the number of people who are sick with Covid, the flu and other respiratory illnesses near you, you can make more informed choices about how best to protect yourself.

For example, if you hear on your local public radio station that Covid numbers are ticking up in your area and you haven’t yet received your updated vaccine, you might want to get one now, knowing that it takes a couple weeks to provide full protection. Or if you hear from your child’s teacher that the flu is going around and your family hasn’t yet gotten flu shots, now might be the time to do so.

Read: Options for Covid Vaccines >>

The CDC has a map of current flu activity in the United States that they update weekly and a Covid tracker that they update twice weekly that can help you stay on top of infection rates. Your local health department is probably tracking illness on a community level as well.

Education equals empowerment

No matter what you’re considering, it’s a general rule of thumb that educating yourself about your choices can go a long way in helping you make one. When you learn about vaccines, both on your own and with others, you’re empowering yourself to decide what’s best for you and your family.

This educational resource was created with support from Novavax, a HealthyWomen Corporate Advisory Council member.

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