As one of the greatest accomplishments of modern western medicine and the most effective method of preventing infectious diseases, vaccinations played a major role in eradicating smallpox worldwide and in restriction of polio, measles, and tetanus from most of the world. With all the misinformation surrounding the anti-vaccine movements today, it’s certainly worth raising awareness about how vaccines actually grant us immunity against certain pathogens.
Our immune system is responsible for fighting any harmful viruses or bacteria that may enter our bodies. Most of the time it keeps them from entering or finds and destroys them once they have entered the body. However, once in a while, an external pathogen may overwhelm the immune system and hinder its ability to fight back by producing antibodies.
A vaccine introduces a safe version of the pathogen into the body, ensuring that the immune system learns to recognize them as hostile invaders and produces antibodies if the live pathogen enters the body in the future. This helps in inducing a faster and more reliable response from the immune system against the pathogen.
The safe version of pathogen used can be:
– A sugar or protein molecule found on the surface which is unique to the pathogen.
– A dead or inactivated form of a pathogen, usually killed with heat or chemicals
– A toxoid or a harmful chemical or toxin made by the pathogen
– A weakened form of the pathogen
Vaccination works on both individual and communal levels. In order to eradicate an epidemic, vaccines rely on herd immunity or community immunity . This is what happens when a considerable portion of the community gets immunity against a pathogen, so the pathogen will die out without eligible hosts. When this happens, all the members of that community are protected even if some are unvaccinated. This is a critical factor, as there’s always a portion of the community that cannot be vaccinated, such as infants, young children, those with severe allergies, pregnant women, older people and people with compromised immune systems.
However, if a significant amount of people within a community forego vaccination, this breaks the herd immunity. This is evident in the case of once almost-eradicated measles and whooping cough epidemics which are now prevalent within the US, following the anti-vaccination movements claiming that vaccines cause autism in children, urging parents not to vaccinate their kids. Extensive research has proven that there is no substantial evidence to support these claims. However, this has not hindered the anti-vaccination movements from growing, specifically within the recent years’ rise in social media use.
The researchers and experts around the globe agree on the importance of vaccinating the children. As the American Academy of Pediatrics states “most childhood vaccines are 90%-99% effective in preventing disease.” According to Shot@Life, a United Nations Foundation partner organization, vaccines save 2.5 million children from preventable diseases every year.
Additionally, the safety of vaccines are stated by all the major medical organizations including CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Institute of Medicine (IOM), American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), UNICEF, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The effects of vaccination reach even the unborn generations. Vaccinated mothers protect their unborn children from viruses that could potentially cause birth defects, and vaccinated communities can help eradicate diseases for future generations. Considering all the facts, it is a wise choice when you decide vaccines are not your enemies. They are the friends lending a hand to humanity to rise above pandemics.