Shots. Just the sound of the word brings up memories from dreaded doctor visits where a nurse walks in with a tray of vaccines to inject an unsuspecting victim.
The best way to look at how vaccines works are to view them as the attempt to mimic a natural immune response that would occur in real life, but better. Vaccines work against bacterial and viral outbreaks and save millions of lives globally, but the importance of getting vaccinated has been clouded by continuous practices since the 18th century.
“The flu shot? I’m healthy. I don’t need it,” or, “Measles? I couldn’t ever contract that!” are common misconceptions from our neighbors and friends.
Vaccines provide preventive measures as to why friends and families are able to live their lives without fear of catching a deadly disease, but how about in cases where ignorance is not bliss?
In a time where smallpox was sweeping through England and decimating populations of villages, Edward Jenner, the father of immunology, pioneered the smallpox vaccine. When cowpox was contracted by his milkmaids, Jenner soon realized that they were immune by the contagious smallpox virus.
After many successful trials later, it was found that his hypothesis stood: the pus in the blisters that milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less severe) protected them from smallpox.
The smallpox virus, called Variola, is a global pathogen and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox as an eradicated disease in 1980, nearly 150 years after its’ first discovery. The smallpox vaccine is 99.999% effective, and the eradication of viral infection bore ethical struggles amongst scientists because the existence of a life form was soon to become extinct.
Dr. Cedric W. Spak, M.D., an infectious disease doctor on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, put the importance of vaccinations in a worldly perspective stating:
“Each individual who gets vaccinated puts the importance of the health of the population as a priority.”
Some civilians may assume that they have an allergy to the flu shot from previous experiences, but in reality, there are so many new strains of the flu vaccine that an allergy to the flu shot is irrelevant.
Dr. Spak also explained that if the United States population annually received the flu vaccination, between 5,000 to 15,000 lives would be saved! When considering the fatalities due to allergies from the flu vaccine are considered, the number stays at zero.
What is interesting about children is that they have continuously changing immune systems, so because they continue to grow, their immunizations have to keep up with them, which is where the importance of booster shots comes into play. Because of the misconception of diseases actually hitting home due to preventive action, vaccines have had a lessened emphasis throughout the general public.
In a recent news update by the Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) on June 11, 2013, there was a notification of a second laboratory-confirmed case of measles. This 14-year-old child was fully immunized, but had been a contact of the previously reported imported case last month.
Healthcare providers are reminded to consider measles in the initial differential diagnosis of patients with compatible symptoms, particularly those who have traveled abroad or come into contact with travelers or known measles cases.
Measles is highly contagious and is spread by respiratory droplets and airborne pathogens. The incubation period for this febrile rash illness is about two weeks. Patients are contagious from four days before the onset of the rash to four days after appearance of the rash.
The DCHHS recommended the following to consider:
- In the healthcare settings, suspected cases should be triaged quickly from waiting areas, with airborne isolation precautions recommended. In outpatient settings, such patients should be scheduled at the end of the day, if feasible.
- Persons with measles commonly present in physician’s offices or emergency rooms and pose a risk of transmission in these settings. All healthcare personnel should have documented evidence of measles immunity on file at their work location.
- Testing for measles should be done in patients meeting clinical case definition, which includes: (1) a generalized rash lasting ≥3 days, and (2) fever ≥101°F (38.3°C), and (3) cough, coryza or conjunctivitis.
- Immediately report any suspected measles cases to DCHHS at (214) 819-2004. Contact DCHHS while the patient is present in the clinical setting, to facilitate testing and follow-up of potential exposures. A blood specimen for serology and throat swab for viral culture should be collected at the first contact with a suspected measles case.
Because measles remains endemic in much of the world, the MMR (measles-mumps-rubellaaccine) is recommended for children as young as six months of age when they are traveling abroad.
- Children ≥12 months of age who are traveling internationally should receive two doses of MMR, separated by at least 28 days.
- Infants vaccinated before age 12 months should be revaccinated after the first birthday with 1 dose, followed by a 2nd dose at least 28 days later. (MMWR April 8, 2011)
Maintaining high two-dose community coverage with MMR vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent outbreaks.
In children, the first MMR vaccine dose is administered at 12-15 months and the second at 4-6 years.
All college students, international travelers, and health care personnel should receive two doses of MMR vaccine, unless they have other evidence of measles immunity.
Check out the CDC’s measles vaccination guidelines for more information.
Unlike smallpox, the MMR vaccine has no set reservoirs which make it tricky to guarantee life-long immunity.
There has been a pervasive mistrust of vaccines that has been unfortunately propagated because the general public outlived the horrors of diseases like polio that their grandparents once lived in.
We now get vaccinated at such a young age for a multitude of diseases that we forget the importance of follow up shots.
Dr. Spak continues to stress the safe qualities of vaccines with the definitive statement that, “The problem with vaccines, in general, is that our immunity is good, but it’s not perfect. It’s not an invisible ratio, so it’s always a good idea to get vaccinated.”
For more information on vaccines and what they can do for you and your baby to live a long and healthy life, visit the official websites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization listed below: