Vaccines are one of the most powerful and effective weapons in the fight against infectious diseases.
The landscape of epidemics has changed dramatically since relatively recently, in less than 200 years. What is considered the first vaccine in modern history was applied in 1796, some 183 years later, in December 1979, the WHO (World Health Organization) announced, after intense vaccination campaigns throughout the world, the eradication of smallpox, a disease that in the 20th century alone caused between 300 and 500 million deaths. Vaccines have controlled diseases such as polio, measles, whooping cough, and many others. The fight continues to find vaccines against other infectious diseases How lucky we are to have vaccines!
Surely you know one or more people like Armando, a new patient who recently came to my office. He has diabetes, high blood pressure, had asthma as a child, smoked in the past and every time he catches a cold he needs to use inhalers because he tends to have a cough with narrowing of the bronchial tubes (or asthmatic bronchitis). Obviously I found out about his medical history and his health problems since that is what made him come to see me. During his visit, in addition to taking all this information, his medicines, his family history, examining him, in short, obtaining all the information that I obtain during the first visit with a new patient, I asked him about his immunizations or vaccines. The first thing he said to me was “Dr. Aliza, I no longer remember any vaccination that I have been given that was not in my childhood.
My first reaction was, if your daughter works with doctors, she probably knows about the benefits of vaccinations. I told him that, of course!, that he could even call him from the office so that we could start the immunizations during that visit, since according to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) for its acronym in English, it was worth it to receive several vaccinations starting immediately because we were in the winter season. I explained to him that he qualified not only because of his age, but that he should receive various vaccinations: such as the influenza vaccine (flu shot)since he was at higher risk of getting the flu or influenza (which is not the same as a common cold or cold) and the pneumonia vaccine, since he was at higher risk of getting pneumonia because he had diabetes and a history of developing asthmatic bronchitis easily. I also explained that there were two types of pneumonia vaccines. And these are just some of the recommended vaccines.
To my surprise, when she called her daughter, the daughter told her not to get any vaccines because vaccines cause the disease. Upon hearing this, I asked Armando exactly what his daughter did, since he had told me that she worked with doctors. He told me that she sold medical equipment. That explains the ignorance of her daughter. The daughter works in SALES and, although she sells equipment related to medical things, that does not mean that she knows about health. Unfortunately, having misinformation, even if it comes from loved ones with the best intentions, can cause problems.
What is a vaccine and how does it work?
The vaccine is a biologically active substance that is introduced into the body to cause the appearance of antibodies, which are the response of our immune system (defense system) to the attack of viruses and bacteria. When a person develops antibodies to a certain disease, they will rarely get it, and if they do, the disease will be much milder.
For the immune system to respond effectively to an infectious microorganism, it must have some type of marker or identification, known as an antigen. Bacteria and viruses, as well as their varieties, carry their own specific antigens. In the presence of a particular antigen, immune cells spring into action and take action either by directly attacking it and/or by creating antibodies against it. Not all immune cells and antibodies are used in the defense attack. A part is left in reserve for future protection and this is what is known as “memory”. In most cases, this memory capacity is so efficient that when the antigen reappears in the future, it completely destroys it. This is the case, for example, ofchickenpox (or smallpox) , a common viral infection. Those who were born before 1990, (the year in which the chickenpox vaccine was introduced), remember that if they contracted it they could not attend school until the fever subsided and the skin rashes disappeared. Those people never got chickenpox again, even though they were likely exposed to the virus many times. Because there is only one variety of chickenpox that affects humans and the immune (immune or defense) system successfully remembers its antigen, people who get it once never get it again, and people who get vaccinated against it never get it. .
The situation changes, for example, in the case of the flu (influenza, which is different from a cold or cold). It is possible to get the flu, winter after winter, because there are different strains of influenza that affect humans each season. A person who developed immunity to last year’s strain of flu was protected during that season, but will not be protected the following season when different strains of flu emerge. That’s why both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu (influenza) every year. This vaccine is given at different times in the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. In the United States, its administration generally begins each year in September and the season lasts until April. Consult your doctor and get vaccinated.
Surely the older people in your family or in the community will be able to bear witness to the consequences and even deaths caused by diseases such as smallpox , typhoid fever or poliomyelitis (polio) , which today have been successfully eradicated or controlled. through vaccines. In recent years we have all experienced the threat of the avian flu epidemic and the A H1N1 influenza epidemic .
Vaccines are not just for children
Vaccines improve the quality of life as they fight dangerous infectious diseases: they can avoid hospitalizations and complications due to diseases, prevent sequelae (as in the case of polio) and even deaths. Consult your pediatrician or family doctor to update your children’s vaccinations and to recommend which ones you should receive or reactivate based on your current state of health.
Those recommended for children and adolescents up to age 19 include: hepatitis B, rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), Hib ( Haemophilus Influenza ) type b, pneumococcal pneumonia, polio, flu (influenza), measles, rubella, mumps, chickenpox (crazy smallpox), Hepatitis A, meningococcal meningitis, against human papillomavirus (HPV) .
Several need to be reactivated intermittently, and some, such as rubella, measles, and mumps, are given in a single injection. The pediatrician will tell you when the child’s next dose is due so that he is always protected.
Adults need protection against the same infections as children, and it is also recommended that they get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia (there are two different vaccines), against the flu (influenza), against diphtheria and tetanus, and against varicella zoster (shingles). ).
Pregnant women should ideally receive all of their immunizations (shots) before becoming pregnant. And if they get pregnant during flu season, they should get the flu (influenza) vaccine. A pregnant woman who contracts the flu during pregnancy can develop very serious complications and may even require hospitalization.
Beware of misinformation!
Despite all the benefits that vaccines offer, there are misconceptions about them that are unfounded. For example:
• Vaccines are not safe: False! The risks associated with vaccinations are minimal. The risks to which the person is exposed if they are not vaccinated are much greater and have serious consequences, since they will not have protection against various germs, viruses and bacteria. Vaccines not only protect the person, but also his family and the community in which he lives. The fewer people who can get a disease, the less likely it is for other people around them to catch it. The more people get vaccinated, the healthier the entire population in general will be.
• Vaccines, especially if administered in groups, cause autism and other diseases: False! It has already been proven that this is not the case. In other Vida y Salud articles we already discussed the myths related to vaccines and autism . A recent study by the Institute of Medicine has found that two decades of vaccine safety research have made serious side effects rare. Furthermore, the study confirms that vaccines do not cause autism, diabetes or asthma.
Even sadder than contracting a disease is not having the resources to fight it. So why not take full advantage of the protection that vaccines offer us? The medical field took giant leaps by developing vaccines. Protect yourself, protect your family and your community.