HEALTH – August 2013

Why Vaccinations are Important

In today’s day and age, vaccines play an essential role in preventing or at least delaying the spread of infection of many diseases. Illnesses such as smallpox have been eradicated thanks to the creation of vaccines. But what is a vaccine, and why is it so important for you to keep up with your vaccinations?. When microbes such as viruses or bacteria enter the body, they often have the ability to attack and then reproduce. Your body attempts to ward off this invasion by fighting back via specialized cells and organs that make up our body’s immune system. However, if your body has never seen a particular microbe, it can take a substantial amount of time for your body to mount an immune response. Both the invasion and the body’s efforts to eliminate the invading germs can lead to symptoms (such as a fever) that we commonly associate with being sick. Once the body is successful in fighting off the disease, we are left with a “memory” system- a small supply of cells that are specialized to quickly initiate another immune response if we ever encounter that germ.

A vaccine works by attempting to introduce a weakened, “imitation” version of the infectious bacterium or virus. The vaccine will not cause your body to become sick, but it will allow it to develop an immune response. This means that after you get your vaccine, if you ever encounter that germ, your body should mount a rapid immune response to it. By strengthening our immune response, vaccines can prevent cases of infectious disease, save lives and even reduce costs in our healthcare system.

Aside from helping us prevent illness in the individual, vaccines also help us protect the health of our community. This is often referred to as “herd immunity.” For example, individuals who cannot be vaccinated because of medical reasons can be protected when others around them are vaccinated.  Additionally, young children less than a year old can benefit when those around them are vaccinated. This happens because when most of the population is immune to a particular disease, it prevents the spread of that disease even if one or two un-vaccinated people get sick. This helps reduce the risk of that disease turning into an epidemic. In some cases, there are people who receive a vaccine but do not develop immunity; however, if everyone else in the community is vaccinated, then this individual will still be protected.  Therefore, choosing to vaccinate yourself and your children is a decision that not only keeps you and your loved ones healthy, but also keeps your community healthy as well.

But why are so many individuals reluctant to vaccinate their children? Years ago, vaccines such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine were falsely labeled as the cause of autism. Unfortunately, 1 in 5 Americans still believe this to be true despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Many parents have heard stories about children who develop signs of autism soon after vaccination, but this is likely because the MMR vaccine is normally administered around the typical age of onset of autism symptoms.  According to a 2010 C.D.C. report, 40 percent of American parents with young children have delayed or refused one or more vaccines for their child. This statistic shines light on the fact that there is much work to be done within the field of medicine in order to educate the community on the risks vs. benefits of vaccination. Therefore, we urge parents to engage in an honest dialogue with their doctor in order to discuss when and why vaccination is best for their children.

Shilpa Agarwal was born in Mumbai, India and raised primarily in Middletown, New York. She got her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University and is currently attending SUNY Upstate Medical University. She enjoys the field of Neuroscience and is thinking about pursuing a career in Neurology. She is a member of the SUNY Upstate’s chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association,a national organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for the health needs of the Latino community. LMSA members, including herself, contribute to CNY Latino and raising awareness regarding the many health issues affecting the Latinos of Central NY and beyond.

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