What You Need to Know About Vaccinations

What You Need to Know About Vaccinations

Each year, August is designated as National Immunization Awareness Month. During this time, people are encouraged to learn more about vaccinations and the role they play in protecting our communities against diseases. Below, I’ll address some of the most commonly asked questions about vaccines.

Why is it important to be vaccinated?

In 1989, a measles outbreak occurred in the US due to very low vaccination rates.Vaccines protect you and your community. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent many serious diseases such as whooping cough and measles. They also help most people have immunity (protection) against diseases.

Infants and people with weak immune systems or a serious disease like cancer or HIV/AIDS many times may not be able to receive certain vaccines. When you get vaccinated, you are also protecting the people around you who cannot be vaccinated. When a significant number of people a community become vaccinated against a particular illness, the entire group is less likely to get the disease. This is a type of protection called community, or herd, immunity.

But, if too many people in a community do not get vaccinated, diseases can resurface. In 1989, vaccination rates dropped to a very low rate which allowed a measles outbreak to occur in the United States. The outbreak brought about more than 55,000 cases of measles and over 100 deaths associated with measles.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines help your immune system do its job better and faster. And that protects you from serious diseases. When you get a vaccine, it triggers your body’s immune system. This helps your body fight off and remember the germ so it can attack it if it ever enters the body again. Vaccines are made of minute amounts of weak or dead germs so they won’t make you sick.

Vaccines often provide long-lasting immunity to serious diseases without the risk of serious illness. Once your immune system is taught to resist a disease, you are considered to be immune to it.

Should I get vaccinated or wait for natural immunity to take its course?

Vaccines are considerably safer. Natural immunity occurs after you get sick with a disease. But diseases can be serious, some may even be deadly. A vaccine protects you from a disease before it makes you sick. Before vaccines, the only way to become immune to a disease was to get it and, hopefully survive it. We refer to this as naturally acquired immunity.

With naturally acquired immunity, you endure the symptoms of the disease. But you also risk the complications, which can be quite serious or even deadly. Also, during certain stages of the illness, you may be contagious. You risk passing the disease to family members, friends, or others who come into contact with you.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines go through years of rigorous safety testing before they are released for public use.Yes! Before they are allowed for public use, vaccines go through years of rigorous safety testing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests them for several years in labs. Only then can vaccines be tested on humans. Every lot of vaccines must meet safety and quality standards for potency, purity and sterility. The factories which manufacture vaccines are held to the highest quality standards.

Vaccines are monitored after release for public use. Once licensed and endorsed for use, the FDA, Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other federal agencies monitor the vaccine's safety through a national vaccine monitoring system and other immunization safety databases. The CDC and FDA have a Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). Patients and providers can report any side effect that may come about after a vaccination. Side effects may be related to the vaccine or may be a coincidence.

Do vaccines have side effects?

Most people do not have serious side effects from vaccines. The most common side effects are usually mild and go away on their own quickly. The common side effects indicate your body is starting to build immunity against disease.

The most common side effects include:

  • Redness, swelling, and/or pain where the shot was given
  • Mild fever, chills, muscle and joint aches
  • Headache, overall feeling of tiredness

Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare. For every one million vaccine doses given, 1 to 2 people may have a severe allergic reaction. Getting vaccinated is much safer than getting the serious disease vaccines are preventing. Always talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your health after getting vaccinated.

Do childhood vaccines cause autism?

No. Vaccines do not cause autism. Multiple studies have looked for a correlation between vaccines and autism. Research shows that vaccines do not cause autism.

Do vaccines actually make a difference?

Yes! Vaccines provide acquired immunity artificially and are an easier and safer way to become immune. Vaccines can prevent a disease from arising rather than attempt to cure it after the fact.

As the chart below illustrates, vaccines have largely eradicated many significant diseases since their implementation during the 20th century.

DISEASE
20th CENTURY ANNUAL PRE-VACCINE
2009 CASES
PERCENT DECREASE
Measles
503,282
71
99.9%
Diphtheria
175,885
0
100%
Mumps
152,209
1,991
98.7%
Pertussis
147,271
13,214
91.0%
Smallpox
48,164
0
100%
Rubella
47,745
3
99.9%
Haemophilus influenzae type b, invasive
20,000
35
99.8%
Polio
16,316
0*
100%
Tetanus
1,314
18
98.6%
Chart Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases

As with anything related to your health, if you have questions or concerns about vaccinations, please speak with your physician!

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Elizabeth (Beth) Sims is the Director of Nursing at Vibra Hospital of San Diego. She is grateful everyday to work with such a passionately engaged team of employees who are privileged to care for some of the sickest patients in the region. A native San Diegan Beth enjoys taking her dog to the beach, the mountains and the desert, and maybe all in one day!

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