Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives.
Infants, children and adults regularly receive vaccines to keep them healthy. Often people forget why vaccines matter and how important they are. In 2015 we had a real example in the United States of how serious illness is spread when people don’t get vaccinated.
In 2015, 188 people (mostly children and mostly unvaccinated) in 24 states contracted measles. This outbreak started in Disney Land in California. Measles is a serious highly contagious disease causing fever, runny nose, cough, rash and sometimes pneumonia, brain infections, and death. There were deaths during this outbreak. There is a vaccine which can help prevent Measles infections – the MMR vaccine (measles mumps and rubella vaccine) – and all children should receive this vaccine at ages 12 to 15 months and 4 to 5 years. In order for the vaccine to work best, as many children as possible and ideally all children need to receive this vaccine.
A 2013 New England Journal of Medicine article estimated that immunizations against diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis A, measles, mumps, rubella and polio have prevented 103.1 million cases of these vaccine preventable diseases since 1924. Some illnesses like polio we no longer see in the United States because the vaccine works so well the disease can be eliminated when enough people receive the vaccine. However, older Americans can remember the fear of getting polio, and a President who had polio and was largely wheel chair bound due to polio. Other illnesses like pertussis (whooping cough) we do see because vaccine protection can wear off as we get older. When teenagers or young adults get pertussis they most often have a very unpleasant 90 day cough. When infants get pertussis they can stop breathing and die. So the vaccine protects babies when babies get the vaccine, and also protects babies when their caregivers and adult contacts get the vaccine.
Vaccines can even protect against cancer. The HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine protects against 9 types of the virus which can cause cervical, anal, and oral cancer. Since the introduction of the vaccine, rates of cervical cancer have already gone down. The vaccine has been very effective with no major side effects noted since its creation. The Hepatitis B vaccine protects against a virus which is the most common cause of liver cancer in the world.
Sometimes parents and patients worry that vaccines are not safe. Perhaps they have heard something on the internet or a talk show or a rumor from a friend. It is important to remember that rumors and guesses don’t prove whether something is safe or not. And that if two things happen at the same time that doesn’t for sure mean that one caused the other. For example, if I cross the street wearing a watch and I am hit by a car – does that mean that wearing a watch causes people to be hit by cars? No, of course that is not the case.
Careful scientific studies have been done to see whether there is more illness in large groups of people who have received vaccines than in those that have not and time and again they show vaccines are safe. An English doctor had his medical license taken away after it was shown that he made up results which he said he could prove vaccines cause autism. In fact, the parent advocacy group “Autism Speaks” supports the vaccination of all children. They reference on their website the JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) article in which over 95,000 children were examined and those children who received vaccines were not at higher risk of autism.
In my 20 years of practice I have never seen a truly serious reaction from a vaccine. Also in that time I have seen few cases of meningitis (an infection in the fluid around the brain that can be deadly), and no cases of Haemophilus influenza Type B meningitis. My partners, who have practiced just a little longer than I, had seen children die from this particular infection, and it was pretty common. But then a very effective vaccine against this bacterium (the HIB vaccine) was created in the 1990’s at the University of Rochester. And now the vaccine is given to babies every day, saving lives every day. That is how vaccines work.
So be glad we live in the 21st Century, where we have vaccines to keep children and adults healthier and help them live longer. Feel confident that when your doctor or medical professional says you are due for an immunization, they are looking out for you!
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As seen in the Monroe County Medical Society’s Doctor’s Advice Magazine