Vaccines that Protect Against Infectious Respiratory Diseases

Most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from person to person, which means that if one person in a community gets an infectious disease, they can spread it to others. The best way to help stop the spread of certain diseases is through vaccination. If enough people are vaccinated there are fewer chances for a vaccine-preventable disease to spread, keeping everyone healthier.

There are vaccines for some infectious respiratory diseases, including:

Some infectious respiratory diseases do not yet have a vaccine, including:

Talk to your doctor to see if you are up to date on your vaccinations.  It’s always better to prevent a disease rather than treat it after it occurs.   

Check out the Vaccine Locator for a searchable database to find a site that offers vaccination options near you.

A History of Vaccines

Vaccines have a long and impressive history. Well before we understood how infections worked, in the late 1700s an English physician Edward Jenner learned that giving small amounts of infected material from smallpox victims to others provided them protection from the dreaded disease. It was from those learnings that he developed a smallpox vaccine saving countless lives and small-pox has now been eradicated worldwide. Since that first vaccine was developed in 1798, we have used that same principle to produce vaccines to almost eliminate many of the formerly deadly childhood infectious diseases from the U.S.  In fact, the greatest vaccine success in the modern era has been the near worldwide elimination of polio.

But it’s not always that simple. Try as we might, we have not yet been able to develop successful vaccines to control other important worldwide infections, such as tuberculosis (TB), malaria and HIV. In addition, controlling influenza also remains a challenge requiring new vaccines each flu season. Most recently, scientists are working tirelessly to create a vaccine to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Vaccines Work

Vaccine and new drug testing are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are done in a similar way.  First, the vaccine is tested in animals to see if it can elicit an immune response and identify any serious side effects. If it seems safe and effective, it is tried in a small group of humans to check for safety (Phase I). If this initial test is successful, then it is tried in larger groups of humans to determine what variables may affect the safety of the vaccine as well as the immune response. This larger group gives researchers a better picture of how the vaccine may or may not protect diverse patients.  (Phases II and III). 

If the need for the vaccine is urgent, such as the COVID-19 vaccines currently in Phase III testing, and the vaccine being studied seems to work, the FDA may give preliminary or conditional approval before all the testing is completed. But this will only happen if positive results are being shown throughout all phases of testing and no adverse effects are noted.

Learn more by searching for recent vaccine topics covered in our Each Breath blog.

Still Have Questions?

Contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for one-on-one support, or submit your question online.

Page last updated: November 17, 2020

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