The Benefits of Vaccination
The body’s immune system helps protect against pathogens that
cause infection. Most of the time, it’s an efficient system. It either keeps
microorganisms out or tracks them down and gets rid of them. However, some pathogens
can overwhelm the immune system. When this
happens, it can cause serious illness.
The pathogens most likely to cause problems are the ones the
body doesn’t recognize. Vaccination is a way to “teach” the immune system how
to recognize and eliminate an organism. That way, your body is prepared if you
are ever exposed.
Vaccinations are an important form of primary prevention.
That means they can protect people from getting sick. Vaccinations have allowed
us to control diseases that once threatened many lives, such as:
- whooping cough
It’s important that as many people as possible get
vaccinated. Vaccination doesn’t just protect individuals. When enough people
are vaccinated, it helps protect society. This occurs through herd immunity.
Widespread vaccinations make it less likely that a susceptible person will come
into contact with a disease.
How Does Vaccination Work?
A healthy immune system defends against invaders. The immune
system is composed of several types of cells. These cells defend against and
remove harmful pathogens. However, they have to recognize that an invader is
Vaccination teaches the body to recognize new diseases. It
stimulates the body to make antibodies. It also primes immune cells to remember
the infection. That allows for a faster response to the disease in the future.
Vaccines work by exposing you to a safe version of a
disease. This can take the form of:
- a protein or sugar from the surface of a
- a dead or inactivated bacterium
- a virus-like particle that is not infectious
- a weakened pathogen
When the body responds to the vaccine, it builds an adaptive
immune response. This helps equip the body to fight off an actual infection.
Vaccines are usually given by injection. Most vaccines
contain two parts. The first is the antigen. This is the piece of the disease
your body must learn to recognize. The second is the adjuvant. The adjuvant
sends a danger signal to your body. It tells it to respond to the antigen as an
infection. This helps you develop immunity.
Active vs. Passive Immunity
Antibodies help the body recognize diseases. Protection from
antibodies can be achieved in two different ways.
Active immunization teaches the body to
recognize a pathogen. It stimulates long-term protection against a disease.
Active immunity can occur after an infection (natural immunity). It can also
occur through vaccination (artificial immunity).
Passive immunization provides short-term protection
against a disease. It occurs when someone receives antibodies instead of making
their own. Passive immunity is transmitted naturally from mother to child
during birth and breast-feeding. It can also be achieved artificially through the
injection of immune globulins. These are antibody-containing blood products.
Why People Don’t Get Vaccinated
In recent years, vaccine opponents have challenged their
safety and effectiveness. However, their arguments have generally been flawed.
Vaccination is a very safe way to prevent disease. There is no good evidence
that vaccination can cause autism. However, there is a lot of evidence that
vaccines can prevent serious disease and death.
Not all people avoid vaccinations because of safety
concerns. Some simply don’t know that they should be vaccinated. For example,
people should get the flu vaccine every winter. However, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 60 percent of Americans don’t
get the annual flu shot. Many have no idea they should.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about what vaccines
you need. Avoiding vaccination puts you at risk of serious disease. It can lead
to costly doctor’s visits and hospital fees.
What If We Stopped Vaccinations?
Vaccines can reduce disease. For example, vaccination helped
to eliminate polio from the Western hemisphere. According to the CDC, polio used
to paralyze 13,000 to 20,000 people each year in the United States. Vaccination
has also reduced the number of measles infections by more than 99 percent.
Ending vaccination could be very dangerous. Even today,
around the world, many vaccine-preventable deaths still occur. This is because
vaccines are not available to everyone. One of the missions of the World Health
Organization (WHO) is to increase vaccine availability. The WHO
estimates that, each year, over 1 million children die of diseases that could
be preventable by vaccine.