What You Need to Know About Vaccines
Paul Cornea, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist
There are many viewpoints and perspectives on the topic of vaccines, their safety and effectiveness. This has never been truer than inside the COVID 19 pandemic. Vaccines have played an important role in our society over the last 100 years and have saved countless lives.
- The polio vaccine prevented children from being scarred for life.
- The smallpox vaccine led to the eradication of a very lethal infection.
- The measles vaccine prevents an extremely contagious virus that could cause severe disease and death.
- The human papilloma virus vaccine continues to significantly decrease the rates of cervical, oral and rectal cancers.
- The hepatitis B vaccine prevents an incurable infection that could eventually lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
And the list goes on.
The point of vaccination is to develop an immunity against dangerous viruses and bacteria. Immunization is the process of creating an immune system protection against a certain infective agent. This could occur in an active manner, by vaccination, or in a passive way like natural infection. One example of passive immunity is when antibodies from the mother are transferred to her unborn child. Other examples include transfusing plasma collected from a person who has antibodies or by infusing artificially created antibodies (monoclonal antibodies). There are currently two artificially created products that have specific antibodies against the Sars-CoV-2 virus attachment protein, commonly known as Corona Virus.
Vaccination is only one of the mechanisms of providing immunity, and it works by simulating an infection and tricking the host’s immune system into creating immune cells and antibodies. The vaccines work by introducing a small part of the virus or bacteria to an uninfected person. Sometimes an inactive version or similar versions of the virus/bacteria are introduced to stimulate your body’s response.
Reasons to Vaccinate
If you’re skeptical of vaccines for yourself or your child, it’s important to understand that vaccines have had a tremendous role in reducing death, especially in children, in reducing infectious diseases, and in reducing the incidence of cancer (through HPB and hepatitis B vaccines), to the point that younger generations are completely unaware of the devastating effects of the infections prevented by vaccines.
It’s important to know that the risk of acquiring an infection or transmitting it to a loved one is much higher than the risk of vaccine side effects. Most vaccines are not live, so they cannot give you the actual infection. I also consider vaccination a civic duty – we all have to protect the weaker ones in our society.
In order for any vaccine to truly make an impact on public health is for that vaccine to be effective, safe, affordable and accessible. The goal of the mass vaccination process is to stop the pathogen or virus from spreading and to achieve herd immunity. The outlook is good for vaccinating the country for COVID-19 in the next 12 months.
We are learning as we go and will continue to improve the mass vaccination process. To do that, we need to share our experiences and also learn from what other countries are doing well. It’s my hope that the vaccines continue to prove their safety and that those who are reluctant to take the vaccine now will later come on board.
For questions about the vaccine, please email COVID@memorial.org. For information about phasing and vaccines in our community, visit memorial.org/covidvaccine.
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