Vaccinations can protect children, teenagers and adults against diseases by preparing their immune system to fight certain viruses and other pathogens (germs). If the body then comes into contact with the pathogen, it can react quicker and fight it more effectively.
Some vaccinations – such as those against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) – generally provide protection for the rest of your life. Others, like the tetanus vaccination, have to be given again roughly every 10 years in order to keep up the protection. These are known as booster shots.
Potential serious consequences of vaccinations (e.g. polio) are rare or almost non-existent nowadays. Vaccinations are also an important way to prevent the spread of highly infectious diseases such as measles. They can only have this effect (known as herd immunity) if most of the population has been vaccinated. One of the aims is to protect people who are at particular risk, such as babies or chronically ill people who can't (yet) have the vaccination. In some cases vaccinations have completely – or almost completely – eradicated certain diseases, such as smallpox.
Vaccinations can have side effects. But they are usually only temporary reactions such as skin redness, swelling, muscle ache, headache, joint pain or fever. Although this can be unpleasant, they are usually totally normal reactions: They are a sign that the body's immune system has been activated so that it can provide the desired protection. In very rare cases, vaccinations can lead to serious side effects such as an allergic reaction. But vaccinations are only introduced if their benefits outweigh the potential harms of side effects.
This article describes the vaccinations that are currently recommended in Germany by the Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), and also paid for by German statutory health insurers. You will find an overview of all vaccinations in the immunization schedule provided by the Robert Koch Institute.