Preventive Health

The Top 5 Things You Need to Know About Vaccines

We know we are supposed to get vaccinated to prevent certain diseases, but do we really know what those vaccines are doing to our bodies to create immunity? Here are the top five things you need to know about vaccines:

1. Vaccines have wiped out many deadly diseases
Vaccines are one of science’s great discoveries for maintaining public health. They are a safe, cost-effective and efficient way to prevent sickness and death from infectious diseases. Vaccines are the reason for the eradication of naturally occurring smallpox from the globe and the near eradication of polio. Both are devastating diseases.

2. Vaccines teach your immune system how to fight viruses
When introduced into your body, vaccines teach your immune system to fight viruses by mimicking a natural infection. This takes advantage of your body’s natural ability to learn how to eliminate almost any disease-causing germ, or microbe, that attacks it. Your body “memorizes” how to react when the germs attack.

3. There is more than one type of vaccine
There are many different types of vaccines, but the two main categories are live, attenuated and inactivated. Live, attenuated vaccines contain a version of the living germ that has been weakened in the lab, so it can’t cause disease but can stimulate immunity against that germ. These vaccines are good stimulators of the immune system because they cause strong cellular and antibody responses and often produce lifelong immunity.

Inactivated vaccines contain viruses or parts of viruses that have been killed or inactivated. The inactivated virus cannot reproduce itself or cause disease. The body still recognizes the virus and produces an immunity response. Because the inactive virus doesn’t reproduce itself, these vaccines can be given to people with weakened immune systems. The disadvantage of these types of vaccines is that sometimes several doses must be given to achieve long-term immunity, but persons with weakened immune systems may not respond to even multiple doses.

4. The risks and side effects of vaccines are minimal
Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects, but the most common side effects are mild. In general, people with weakened immune systems should not be given live vaccines. Please discuss with your physician if you can receive a vaccine if you have a reason to suspect that your immunity is low. Examples of live viral vaccines are the varicella, rotavirus and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines.

5. The consequences of not vaccinating are bigger than you might think
Many vaccine-preventable diseases can be serious or even deadly. Even though many of these diseases are rare in the United States, they still occur around the world and can be brought into the U.S, which puts unvaccinated children at risk.

If we stopped vaccinating, diseases that are almost unknown, such as polio, measles and rubella, would stage a comeback, and we would see epidemics of diseases that are under control today.

If you have questions or concerns about a particular vaccine, please talk to your doctor.

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