World Immunization Week (April 24-30) is an annual week of awareness that was created to promote the importance of vaccines across the globe. This year’s theme, Vaccines Bring Us Closer, highlights the need to protect people of all ages against preventable diseases. This past year, we have seen the role that vaccines play in bringing people together physically and emotionally. This week is also a reminder of how fortunate we are to have access to vaccines in the U.S., as that’s not always the case in other countries.
Uzma Rashid, MD, a Family Medicine physician at Woodland Clinic, shared how vital vaccines are to our health and safety.
How Vaccines Work
To understand how vaccines work, it helps to look at how the body fights illness. When germs invade the body, such as bacteria or viruses, they attach and multiply. This invasion (known as an infection) is what causes illness. The immune system uses white blood cells in our body as a tool to fight the infection. These white blood cells, or macrophages, attack germs and dead or dying cells, leaving behind part of the invading germs called antigens. The body identifies antigens as dangerous and stimulates its antibodies to attack them.
Vaccines help develop immunity for your body by imitating an infection. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to produce immunity after vaccination so it’s possible for a person to be infected with a disease just before or after getting vaccinated, and experience symptoms and illness as a result. When receiving a vaccine, make sure you allow enough time for your body to be properly protected.
Vaccinate Your Family & Yourself
Vaccines greatly reduce the risk of infection by working with the body's natural defense systems and are a highly effective way of keeping your family healthy. On-time vaccinations throughout a child’s development helps provide immunity before they are exposed to life-threatening diseases. Vaccines are also rigorously tested to ensure they are safe and effective for children to receive at the recommended ages. They can also protect newborn babies if the mother is vaccinated while pregnant. While the immune system is not fully developed at birth, babies born with antibodies as a result of their mother’s vaccine are more protected.
In the case of the flu vaccine, adults and children older than six months need to get one dose every year. Annual vaccines are critical as flu viruses differ from season to season. Each May, vaccines are produced to protect against the viruses that research suggests will be most common. It’s also important to remember that the immunity a child gets from a flu vaccination does wear off over time. Getting the flu shot keeps you and your family protected — even if the viruses do not change between seasons.
Vaccines also prevent diseases that can be dangerous, or in some cases, deadly. Thanks to vaccines, some diseases are almost extinct in this country, such as smallpox. Vaccines protect our future and keep our children safe from diseases.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the safety and side effects of vaccines. One common falsehood is that they are linked to autism in children. However, scientific studies and reviews continue to show that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism and numerous researchers have concluded there is no link between autism and the compounds found in vaccines.
Want to learn more about the science of immunizations? Visit the World Health Organization.
Contact your doctor to schedule your next appointment and ensure you and your family are vaccinated on time this year.