Understanding the importance of vaccinations

Vaccines are constantly being discussed at the national level. These discussions are typically surrounded by statistics and scientific terms that can make things confusing.

To clear up some of the confusion surrounding the topic here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

What are vaccines and how do they work?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that vaccines are a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease. The immunity produced is what protects the person from contracting a disease. Some people believe that naturally acquired immunity, meaning immunity developed from having the disease itself, is better than the immunity provided by vaccines. However, the CDC warns that natural infections can cause severe complications and can even be deadly. This is true even for diseases typically considered mild, like chickenpox. Vaccines imitate an infection without causing illness. Instead it causes the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection so the body can recognize and fight the vaccine-preventable disease in the future. 

“The more people make the decision to not vaccinate themselves or their children the more these diseases will spread,” said Reomona Thomas, RN, Immunization Program Coordinator for South Health District. “We can’t take a passive approach and think just because the number of cases is decreasing that vaccination is less important. The only way the number of cases will continue to decrease and hopefully go away entirely is if we continue to actively prevent them.”

How are vaccines administered?

Most are administered by injection. They can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

Are there side effects? If so what are they?

Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects. Sometimes, after getting a vaccine, the imitation infection can cause minor symptoms, such as fever. This is normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity.  Other common side effects are mild and are almost always minor (such as redness and swelling where the shot was given) and go away within a few days. Serious side effects after vaccination, such as severe allergic reaction, are very rare and doctors and clinic staff are trained to deal with them. The CDC recommends paying extra attention to your child for a few days after vaccination. If you see something that concerns you, call your child’s doctor.

Why are vaccines needed?

Vaccines are needed to protect everyone, not just ourselves. The CDC explains that most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from person to person. This means that if one person in a community gets an infectious disease, he can spread it to others who are not immune (those who have not been vaccinated). Someone who has been vaccinated and is immune to a disease can’t contract that disease and therefore can’t spread it to others. The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer opportunities a disease has to spread.

What happens if we stop vaccinating?

It may seem easy to say, “That disease is rare. I don’t need to vaccinate myself or my child.” The problem with this thought process is that a disease that is apparently under control right now can suddenly return. It has happened. One example given by the CDC occurred in Japan. “In 1974, about 80 percent of Japanese children were getting pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. That year there were only 393 cases of whooping cough in the entire country, and not a single pertussis-related death. Then immunization rates began to drop, until only about 10% of children were being vaccinated. In 1979, more than 13,000 people got whooping cough and 41 died. When routine vaccination was resumed, the disease numbers dropped again.” If vaccinations continue to decrease diseases that are almost unknown currently would stage a comeback. Epidemics of those diseases would occur. More people would get sick and more would die.

“Vaccination is the safest and healthiest way a person can develop immunity to diseases and stop them from spreading,” said Dr. William Grow, District Health Director. “It is important for the community to understand that vaccines protect everyone. The more people are vaccinated the more likely it is that we as a society will be able to completely eliminate these diseases.” For more information on vaccinations visit the CDC Vaccination page: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/