The world is facing unprecedented health challenges ranging from disease outbreaks particularly vaccine-preventable ones, growing reports of drug-resistant pathogens, increasing cases of physical inactivity, and obesity. However, an escalating trend of parents refusing their children to be vaccinated poses a greater threat to health globally. The anti-vaccine movement believes that vaccines are harmful to health. To emphasize how dangerous this trend is, vaccine hesitancy was ranked the 9th position among top ten threats to global health in 2019 by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2019). When parents deny their children vaccination, they open doors to the outbreak of diseases that not only have negative health outcomes but economic consequences too. For instance, WHO reports a 30% upsurge in measles cases globally (WHO, 2019). Due to the rapid spread of the anti-vaccine movement and the health and economic risks it poses, it is important to have a clear understanding of vaccines. Vaccines are safe for human consumption and deliver great health and economic benefits.
Immunization and the Immune System
Immunization/vaccination is the process of administering a vaccine to an individual to protect him/her against infectious diseases as well as the diseases’ short and long-term complication (Khanna, 2015). The vaccine is the substance used for immunization, which stimulates the body’s defense mechanisms (immune system) against infectious diseases. Vaccines help the body’s immune system to detect and fight infections without developing notable complications. To understand better how immunization works, it is important to look at how the human body defends itself against disease naturally. Diseases are caused by pathogens, which are bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Once the pathogens attack the body and start multiplying, the body responds through its natural immune system and the acquired immune system (Khanna, 2015). The natural immune system is present in an individual’s body at birth, before exposure to pathogens and antigens. On the other hand, the acquired immune system forms after vaccination or when the body develops antibodies after exposure to a disease. The natural immune system, according to Professor Khanna, responds rapidly compared to the acquired system (2015). Also, the natural immune system responds uniformly to all pathogens while the acquired one responds distinctly to each different disease. The acquired system responds to subsequent infections better compared to the natural system. Since vaccines are made up of modified microbes, the substance tricks the body into believing that it has been attacked, triggering the body to prepare itself for future invasions of the specific microbe introduced to the body. This is how immunization blocks specific infections. As a result, there have to separate vaccines for different infections.
Vaccination is one of the superior scientific advances that have delivered great transformations in terms of disease control, mitigation of disease severity, prevention of infections, protection of the unvaccinated population, prevention of related diseases, health cost savings, and control of mortality and morbidity. Vaccination has enabled eradication of diseases by discontinuing the routine of infectious diseases without extra-human reservoir (Andre et al., 2008). Vaccination can also locally eliminate diseases without eradicating it globally. For instance, Andre et al. note a significant progress in the elimination of measles among WHO’s four of six regions (2008). In the 1990s, morbidity and mortality rates were significantly dropped due to 90% successful immunization of children against Hib disease among Native American, Europe, African, and Chilean children (Andre et al., 2008). This effectiveness against Hib disease in infants was also demonstrated in German and Sweden. It is also estimated that vaccination prevents 6 million deaths globally.
When vaccinated individuals suffer from the specific disease, the severity is milder compared to the unvaccinated individuals. Vaccinated people are also protected against infections such as Hepatitis A and the HPV virus. When a sufficient population in a community is vaccinated, there is a low rate of direct infection of diseases, a concept that is known as “herd protection” (Andre et al., 2008). While vaccines aim to protect the body from a targeted disease, the process also prevents related diseases such as dysentery, pneumonia, and malnutrition in children, as well as cancer, which is related to acute Hepatitis B. Lastly, the ability to reduce morbidity and mortality rates translates to significant long-term healthcare savings, which is a benefit to the society.
Vaccine Misconceptions Invalidated
The current increase in vaccine hesitancy is instigated by a number of misconceptions that are not scientifically true. There is a widespread fear that vaccines expose individuals to autism. Although the causes of autism remain a mystery, symptoms of autism have been detected in children even before receiving the MMR vaccine (PublicHealth, 2018). In 2014, Taylor et al. conducted a study to determine if childhood vaccinations cause autism. The researchers performed a meta-analysis of five cohort studies that involved a total of 1,256,407 children as well as case control sample of 9,920 children. The findings revealed no link between vaccinations and autism (Taylor et al., 2014). In a similar vein, the case control data showed no evidence of an association between autism and vaccination. Secondly, it is believed that children’s immune systems are too weak for many vaccines. Based on the count of antibodies in their bodies, PublicHealth theorizes that children have the ability to respond to approximately ten thousand vaccines at a time (2018). The children’s immune system can never be overwhelmed because, according to PublicHealth, their cells are continuously being replenished. Other people cling to the myth that natural immunity is sufficient to fight diseases. However, as illustrated early in this paper, the acquired immune system has a greater potential compared to the natural one. Lastly, vaccines are said to contain toxic substances like mercury, formaldehyde, and aluminum. Although these substances are harmful to the body, PublicHealth clarifies that the amount used in vaccines is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), therefore, safe for human consumption (2018).
Real Vaccines Side Effects
Vaccines, just like other medical products, have their side effects. However, most of the side effects are mild, including soreness, redness at the injection site, and swelling (The History of Vaccines, 2018). Fever, achiness, and rash have also been reported after vaccination. The possible adverse side effects of vaccination, which are rare, are chronic allergic reaction and seizure. The FDA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed effective systems to monitor and analyze possible side effects of vaccines. Therefore, parents and other individuals should know that vaccines are safe and very helpful to the body.
Vaccines play an essential role of protecting the body from infections. Although the human body has its natural immune system, vaccination boosts the body’s ability to fight diseases. Vaccines deliver great benefits including eradication, elimination, and prevention of diseases, reducing of morbidity and mortality rates, and healthcare cost savings. Contrary to the longstanding notion, vaccines do not cause autism or any other harm apart from mild reactions. Adverse cases of vaccination reactions are rarely reported. It is, therefore, important to get vaccinated because vaccines are safe and beneficial to the body.
Andre,F.E., Booy, R., Bock, H.L.,Datta,S.K., John, T.J., Lee, B.W., Lolekha, S., Peltola,H., Ruff., T.A.,Santosham,M., &Schmitt, H.J. (2008, Feb). Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 86(2), 81-160. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/2/07-040089/en/
Khanna, R. (2015). Immunisation – Protecting our children from disease. Australian Academy of Science, Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/immunisation
PublicHealth. (2018).Vaccines myths debunked. PublicHealth. Retrieved from https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccine-myths-debunked/
Taylor, L.E., Swerdfeger, A.L. & Eslick GD. (2014, June 17). Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case control and cohort studies. Vaccine, 32(29), 3623-3629. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24814559
The History of Vaccines. (2019). Vaccine side effects and adverse events. The History of Vaccines. Retrieved from https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/vaccine-side-effects-and-adverse-events
WHO. (2019). Ten threats to global health in 2019. WHO. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/emergencies/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019