Beyond the Hype: Why Vaccines Are So Important for Public Health
Over the past year cases of the measles began popping up all over the West Coast after an outbreak triggered by a single unvaccinated visitor at Disneyland. This outbreak actually led to the first measles-related death to occur in more than a decade in the United States. With a simple vaccination this whole ordeal could have been avoided, yet there is still a strong voice of opposition when it comes to immunizations for children, who are most vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. There are a few key arguments that exist in the camp of anti-vaxxers, but recent outbreaks of the measles, mumps, and whooping cough are beginning to change public opinion in the face of anti-vaccination fear mongering. Keep reading for a look at the facts about vaccines and their importance in modern medicine.
What’s the argument against vaccines?
The most frequently heard argument against vaccines is that they cause autism, but this is a point that has not been proven. Unfortunately, because it is nearly impossible to prove a negative link between autism and immunizations, this argument is still among the loudest in the anti-vaxxer community. There are, however, more than 40 studies that show no link, and continued research is likely to match these studies. Another anti-vaccination argument stemming from a simple misunderstanding of how the immune system works is that a child’s immune system may become overloaded with too many vaccines. In reality, more vaccines simply mean more prevention, and a higher defense against diseases like mumps, that are not treatable with medication.
How do immunizations actually work?
Another fear of immunizations comes from the active ingredients in the vaccinations themselves. Some people worry that getting a vaccine against a certain disease can actually give you that illness. While some vaccines do contain an inactive strain of a particular virus, there is no risk of contracting the illness the vaccine is supposed to protect against. What immunizations do is teach the body how to fight different diseases with the right antigens produced by the immune system. Because every disease will have different patterns and strategies for reproducing in the body, the immune system has a wide range of specialized cells to fight off a broader spectrum of illnesses. Vaccines basically teach the body to fight off potentially harmful diseases without ever contacting the actual virus.
Why are vaccinations necessary for everyone?
Many parents who now argue against vaccines do not have a reference point for what life was like before these immunizations. In the early 1960s, for example, the measles affected an average of 3.5 million people per year, killing about 1 in 500. Now that vaccination against measles is a standard step in pediatric care, the disease has not been a public health concern for decades. Yet, even when just a small percentage of people are deciding against vaccination, the disease can spread quickly to both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. This brings up the concern of herd immunity, which becomes greatly compromised when people begin to neglect vaccines in their healthcare. While vaccination will provide a level of personal protection against disease, it is only the immunization of an entire population that can eradicate a disease, as was the case with small pox. As people have seen with a dip in vaccination rates in the U.S., diseases like whooping cough and the measles do not wait long to make a resurgence.
If you do have concerns about vaccines, you can always contact a MeMD physician for a second opinion to help you make informed decisions about your child’s healthcare.