Have you had your vaccines? How about your children?
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, so what better time to discuss the importance of vaccines?
Vaccines are a vital part of overall health care, for both children and adults. They provide controlled exposure to diseases that might otherwise make a person extremely ill. Since their beginning in the late 1700s, vaccines have done so much to reduce and even eradicate certain life-threatening diseases.
Keep reading to learn more about the role vaccines play and the overall importance of immunization.
What are Vaccines and How Do They Work?
Let’s break down just what vaccines are and how they work to keep the human body healthy.
The human immune system is great at recognizing “antigens,” which is a fancy term for foreign bacteria or viruses that invade our body.
When our immune system realizes antigens are invading, alarm bells go off and the body begins to produce “antibodies,” which are proteins that the immune system creates and sends out to fight off dangerous invaders.
The first time that our body is exposed to an antigen, it needs time to produce enough antibodies to successfully fight it off. Because of that, the first time a new antigen invades our bodies, we generally fall ill.
However, after that initial exposure, our immune system will remember that antigen, making it poised to rapidly produce the antibodies needed to fight it off if it encounters that antigen again.
This is how we develop immunity.
Some antigens that might cross our paths are very dangerous, and it’s not worth the risk to encounter these naturally and hope that we can develop immunity.
This is where vaccines come into play!
Vaccines use small amounts of specific antigens that are either killed or so weak that they can’t make us sick. What vaccines can do, however, is fire up our immune system’s defenses in order to produce antibodies and give us immunity.
Why is it Important That the Majority of People Get Vaccinated?
Aside from helping us develop immunity, there are other reasons why getting vaccines is a smart idea. One of the most compelling arguments for routine and widespread immunization is what’s known as “herd immunity.”
The basic idea of herd immunity is that the majority of people need to have immunity to a disease to prevent it from spreading through the population. A vaccinated person acts as a “barrier” that prevents a disease from moving through them onto its next host.
Herd immunity only works if the majority of people act as barriers.
These barriers, or immune people, are important to prevent diseases from spreading to those who cannot be vaccinated or who may have weakened immune systems.
Infants under 12 months, elderly people, and those with underlying health conditions that cause them to have poor immune systems are relying on the “herd” to stay vaccinated and prevent the spread of disease.
In the US, we are fortunate to have easy and affordable access to vaccines. This is not the case in every county. Another reason to get immunized is to prevent the chances of contracting a preventable disease if you travel or if you spend time around people who do.
Diseases Prevented by Vaccines
Vaccines have reduced or even eradicated a number of contagious diseases.
Smallpox, a dangerous illness that causes fever and a progressive skin rash, has been globally eradicated since 1980.
Polio is nearly eradicated, with fewer than 500 new cases reported annually. Polio can cause a sore throat, fever, nausea, headache, and stomach pain. Some cases of polio develop serious symptoms that can include paralysis or meningitis.
Other diseases that have been greatly reduced in multitude include tetanus, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, and diphtheria.
Why Are Vaccines Sometimes Considered Controversial?
Controversy and confusion continue to surround the safety of vaccines, largely due to a single, seriously flawed study.
The study, published in The Lancet in 1998, claimed that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was linked to increased rates of autism in children that had received it.
The scientific community has since demonstrated that there is no link between vaccines and autism, and in 2010 The Lancet retracted the study.
Investigations into the research have since found manipulated, misrepresented, and falsified data. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who led the study, has since had his medical license taken away.
Despite The Lancet’s retraction, fears inflamed by this study continue to stoke the concern of worried parents.
There have since been more thorough, controlled, and comprehensive studies done to investigate the link (or lack of a link) between MMR vaccines and autism. These studies have repeatedly shown that there is no evidence that children who have received the vaccine are any more likely to get an autism diagnosis than those that haven’t received it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all strongly encourage and support the use of vaccines in both children and adults as a safe and extremely effective way to prevent dangerous and transmittable diseases.
When to Vaccinate
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a comprehensive vaccination schedule for children. This schedule has been shown to be safe for the general population. Get the best vaccine schedule for your child and his or her particular needs from your pediatrician.
For any additional questions or concerns about the safety, efficacy, or availability of vaccines, we suggest reaching out to a pediatrician or general practitioner.
The Importance of Immunization
We hope this information has helped readers understand the importance of immunization for their children and families.
Again, the scientific community agrees that vaccines are safe. If they cause side effects, these effects are generally very mild (for example, soreness at the injection site or a low-grade fever).
The decision not to immunize puts your child at risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening disease.
Help maintain your own family’s health and the health of your community by staying up to date on all your immunizations!
Watch our blog and news page for more information on ways to keep your family healthy.