As a mother, I know the decision to vaccinate can be a difficult one. I’ve lost sleep over it, talked to several doctors, have read much research on the topic – and I finally feel like I have an adequate understanding. Please let me explain what vaccines do and don’t do.
How they work
A vaccine does not prevent infectious diseases. But a vaccine does introduce a weakened antigen (a germ that’s a form of the bacteria or virus that causes a disease) to your immune system. Since the antigen is weakened, your white blood cells have an opportunity to create antibodies (proteins that destroy toxins) to attach to the antigen.
When you’re exposed to a bacteria or virus you’ve been vaccinated against, you might get sick – but your body revs up the old antibodies that were created after your vaccination, and your immune system starts fighting right away. In other words, by getting vaccinations you help your immune system quickly generate a response to future attacks.
If you refuse a vaccine and are exposed to the bacteria or virus, it takes your body seven to twelve days to begin to build antibodies, then fight. In that time, the sickness could quickly progress and cause harm. Depending on the illness, the harm might even be life-threatening.
Most vaccines include an antigen. Sometimes the antigens are killed, other times vaccines are made with a live, attenuated (weakened) antigen. And some vaccines include toxins that are created by the bacteria.
Vaccines made with killed viruses need booster shots to help remind your immune system. Because the viruses are killed, the vaccine cannot make anyone sick.
The live, attenuated vaccines create a longer protection, but they can cause a strain of the illness in the vaccinated person. For example, my son developed a weakened case of measles a week after he received his first MMR vaccine.
Vaccines also include trace quantities of additives and preservatives like animal proteins, human serums, aluminum, formaldehyde, gelatin, and antibiotics.
Did you know?
Currently – not counting the flu shot – Americans can receive eighteen different vaccinations that protect against twenty-two different diseases: anthrax, diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b, human papillomavirus, Japanese encephalitis, measles/mumps/rubella, meningococcal, pneumococcal, polio, rabies, rotavirus, shingles, smallpox, typhoid, varicella (chicken pox), and yellow fever.
Children are recommended to be vaccinated against thirteen diseases: diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b, measles/mumps/rubella, pneumococcal, polio, rotavirus, and varicella.
In other industrialized nations around the world, the same vaccines are offered with the addition of Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine, which prevents tuberculosis.
Vaccines aren’t truly immunizations, because a fully vaccinated person isn’t completely immunized – he or she can still contract the disease. However, medical professionals believe vaccines are beneficial and that it’s better to prevent a serious illness than treat it.
“How Vaccines Prevent Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Top 20 Questions about Vaccination.” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
“WHO Vaccine Preventable Diseases Monitoring System.” World Health Organization.“Vaccines and Immunization.” World Health Organization.
“Vaccines and Preventable Diseases.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.