Vaccines are one of the simplest ways to protect our children and us from infectious diseases. Immunizations have sharply reduced the incidence of childhood diseases and are one of the main reasons for the increase in life expectancies over the last hundred years. The practice is a major medical success story.
So why am I writing about this topic? People avoid this preventive treatment because of misinformation, misguided notions, or poorly conducted research studies. There were a few news articles that I read this week on the emergence of diseases, such as the measles and whooping cough. The cause was people avoiding vaccines. These individuals contracted the disease and then spread it to others who also did not have protection. This was preventable!
Many years ago, there was a poorly conducted study on the links between the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) and autism. Many people who chose not to immunize their children cited this study. Other research scientists were never able to reach the same conclusions in related studies. A few years ago, the study was discredited and the author lost his license to practice medicine. Unfortunately, people still cling to the notion that vaccines cause autism. Some still cite this study, and the author remains adamant that his research was accurate.
Some people avoid the practice because they believe it is unnatural or unhealthy. It is neither. The best description of immunizations that I ever heard is “a dress rehearsal for your immune system.” This is exactly what happens. Your body is exposed to an inactive or less virulent form of the infectious agent, which stimulates the production of cells that will attack the disease-causing agent if you encounter it. Your body protects you from microbes 24/7. Your immune system is constantly scanning for dangerous pathogens. Why is it unnatural or unhealthy to prepare it for the fight ahead?
Can there be side effects from vaccines? Yes. They are typically minor like a sore arm and disappear after a few days. People occasionally cite incidents when vaccines were contaminated or improperly prepared, and led to deaths. These incidents are rare and do not prove that the practice of immunization is flawed.
People are slowly realizing the mistake of not immunizing children. However, ten to fifteen years of avoiding vaccines has led to the re-emergence of some childhood diseases. Children have died from these diseases. It is important to keep 90% of the population immunized. This reduces the chance of disease-causing agents from finding a host or an infected individual from encountering a person who is not immunized.
If you need more information on vaccines for yourself or others who question the practice of immunizing children, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/
By the way, when is the last time you received a booster shot for tetanus?