by Val Jones, MD
Vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical intervention in history. They are incredibly safe and effective and are well-tolerated by most people. In the US, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carefully reviews all reports of adverse reactions that could be associated with vaccines. Over decades of review, they have found that the rate of potential severe reactions is so low that they cannot even calculate a risk.
There are many vaccines available for babies, children, and adults. Please check these vaccine schedules to make sure that you and your family are fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. (Or you can ask your doctor/nurse to review your vaccine needs with you in person.)
Vaccines for ages 0-6 click here.
Vaccines for ages 7-18 click here.
Vaccines for adults click here.
In case you have any doubts about the value of protecting yourself from disease, here are my top 10 reasons to get vaccinated:
1. Vaccines can reduce your risk of getting certain cancers. Did you know that wart viruses can cause cervical cancer? Young women can protect themselves from certain cancer-causing viruses with the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine. For more information, please check out the CDC’s helpful information page about the HPV vaccine (Gardasil). Also note that the risk of liver cancer can be reduced with the Hepatitis B vaccine (Engerix-B).
2. Vaccines can reduce the frequency of painful shingles outbreaks. Did you know that 1 in 3 adults has at least one shingles outbreak in their lifetime? If you’ve ever had the chicken pox, you could get shingles. Shingles attacks specific nerves, causing the skin to burn and blister. Without anti-viral treatment soon after the onset of symptoms, long term pain syndromes can develop in the area of skin that the nerve supplies. There is a shingles vaccine now available that can reduce the frequency of shingles outbreaks. For more information, check out the CDC’s page on shingles vaccine (Zostavax).
3. Vaccines can protect you from bacterial pneumonia. Did you know that pneumonia is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States? Pneumonia can occur after a flu infection, when the lungs are more susceptible to pneumococcal bacteria. Some people get bacterial pneumonia without ever having the flu. Fortunately we have two vaccines that can reduce the risk of catching pneumonia – the yearly influenza vaccine, and the pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax). For more information, check out the CDC’s website.
4. Vaccines can protect you from the flu. As many as 49,000 Americans die of the flu each year. That number would be significantly higher without flu vaccine programs. Every year flu vaccines are designed in advance to match the most common strains of the virus. Depending on how the viruses develop and spread, the vaccines may vary in effectiveness. The good news is that most years, flu vaccines are 70-90% effective at preventing the flu in healthy adults. For more information, click here.
5. Vaccines can protect you from being paralyzed or killed by the polio virus. Thanks to vaccination programs, the polio virus has been virtually eradicated from the United States. Unfortunately, it is still alive in Africa, India, and some Asian countries, and could come back to the US and ravage our population again if we’re not protected. With globalization and international travel, it is critically important for Americans to maintain their immunity to polio. For more information on the polio vaccine, click here.
6. Vaccines can protect babies from whooping cough (pertussis) and diphtheria. Before we had vaccines for whooping cough and diphtheria, they were a leading cause of death in babies and young children. In fact, 5-10% of those who get diphtheria die from it. These deadly infections can be prevented with vaccines, and those who opt out of vaccinating their children are putting them (and those with whom they’re in contact) at risk. The Mayo Clinic has some helpful information about these diseases.
7. Vaccines can protect you from tetanus (aka “lock jaw”). Tetanus bacteria may infect the body through puncture wounds, certain infections, or burns. These bacteria cause painful body spasms, difficulty swallowing, fevers, and stiffness in the neck and jaw. Tetanus is fatal in about 1 in 10 cases. Since it’s hard to know in advance when you might develop a deep wound or penetrating injury, it’s best to keep your tetanus shots up to date. Vaccination every 10 years is appropriate for most adults. For more information, check out the CDC’s informational page on tetanus.
8. Vaccines can protect you from some forms of hepatitis. Hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, can be caused by viral infections. Although we’re currently searching for vaccines that could protect the liver from many types of viral infections, we have already succeeded in creating a vaccine against hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis A is more common in countries where sanitation and sewage treatment systems are not well developed. Hepatitis A occasionally can cause liver failure requiring transplantation. Hepatitis B is especially dangerous in children. Chronic hepatitis B infection can put people at risk for liver cancer. For more information, click here.
9. Vaccines can prevent certain bacterial brain infections. Babies and teens are at the highest risk for bacterial meningitis. The CDC notes: “About 1,000 – 2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. Even when they are treated with antibiotics, 10-15% of these people die. Of those who survive, another 11-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.” A dose of the meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) is recommended for all young adults aged 11-18.
10. Vaccines can prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. Vaccination programs against measles, mumps, and rubella have been so successful that many people have never seen a case of these diseases. The measles can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death, mumps can cause deafness, brain inflammation, and swollen testicles or ovaries, and rubella (also known as “German measles”) can cause arthritis, birth defects, and miscarriages. False links between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism have been widely promoted, resulting in reduced childhood vaccination rates in certain communities. There have been recent measles outbreaks in areas where parents have declined to protect their children from these diseases. It is critical that we continue to provide this safe and effective vaccine to all our children so that we can eradicate the diseases once and for all.
For more information about the science behind vaccines, and the unfortunate spread of misinformation about them, please check out the Science Based Medicine website.
Val Jones is founder and CEO of Better Health, where this post originally appeared.
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